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Retiring St. Luke’s pediatric surgeon driven to be the best, in the operating room or the pool

Dr. Ellen Reynolds at St. Luke's Children's Hospital on May 2.
By Dave Southorn, News and Community
May 7, 2024

On Sept. 1, Dr. Ellen Reynolds will be on call at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital. It will be her final day working before retirement.

And it will be 25 years to the day she started at St. Luke’s — during which she was on call as a pediatric surgeon.

“That’s just how I like it,” Reynolds said with a smile.

Though it will be bittersweet to move into retirement, Reynolds will do so knowing that she has accomplished so much while also in a way trying to make up for lost time.

“My life has been here and I’m proud of all we’ve done, but I’m looking forward to life outside the hospital,” she said. “It’ll be nice to just be able to grocery shop when I want, go take a walk whenever, see my kids for more than just a weekend.”

Reynolds, a native of California’s Central Valley, has been serving as a pediatric general and trauma surgeon in Idaho for 43 years. Drawn by the mountains and the growing area, she has made the Gem State home. It also is now home to her mother, a former physician herself, whom Reynolds cares for away from the hospital.

Her father was a surgeon who helped the surrounding farming communities near where she grew up, and she has been driven by his sacrifice — she believes he never received proper credit for his accomplishments.

But that has inspired Reynolds to make St. Luke’s Children’s renowned for its work and its growth without being attached to a medical school.

Dr. Ellen Reynolds in March at the World Aquatics Masters Championships in Doha, Qatar. She set world records in five events during the competition.

“I have started to reflect on it a bit; personally, the thousands of kids that I’ve taken care of, that’s what I’ve been most proud of,” Reynolds said. “I also have really enjoyed being part of the growth at St. Luke’s … and being able to be able to have a national voice as someone for rural or non-academic hospitals.”

Reynolds has consulted the American Board of Surgery in developing its Pediatric Surgery Qualifying Exam, has served as governor of the American Pediatric Surgical Association and the surgeon director of the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.

In 2023, she published an article in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery titled “Pediatric Surgery from the Roads Less Traveled: Challenges, Communication and Collaboration from a Community Nonteaching Hospital.”

She also invented a device, an elevation hook, that is placed underneath the sternum and raises it before placing in stabilizing bars for patients who have what is often called “sunken chest,” or pectus excavatum.

Said fellow St. Luke’s pediatric surgeon Dr. Morgan Richards: “She has provided incredible contributions to pediatric surgery in Idaho and nationally.”

But Reynolds isn’t just a decorated surgeon, one of the best you will find.

That’s also how you could describe her in the pool.

While taking her two children to swim lessons, Reynolds’ passion for swimming reignited at age 40, after years of medical school and focusing on her career.

And it turned out, she was still pretty good at it.

Reynolds is one of the top Masters swimmers in the United States. In March, she broke five world records (100- and 200-meter backstroke, the 200- and 400-meter individual medley and the 200-meter breaststroke) in the 60-64 age group at the World Aquatics Masters Championships in Doha, Qatar.

“I’m naturally competitive and it’s been a bit of an outlet for that … when you’re standing in an operating room all day, it helps with your neck and back,” Reynolds said. “(Qatar) was quite the adventure.

“It was pretty emotional; I’d never been part of a medal ceremony before.”

In retirement, Reynolds plans to continue swimming competitively in addition to enjoying the day-to-day perks. She will carry with her a joy in knowing she helped so many children and families in so many ways.

“From a (one-pound) baby to an 18-year-old, you see everything and get to pull from everything you know,” Reynolds said. “… I just love working with kids. And now I’ve operated on the kids of kids I had seen, so that’s a special feeling.”

About The Author

Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.