Dr. Michael Shannon

Death of Dr. Michael Shannon

March 10, 2009
Boston, Massachusetts

Top pediatric doctor at Boston hospital dies at 55


By MARK PRATT, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON -- Dr. Michael Shannon, an internationally known specialist in the study and treatment of the effects of poisons in children, died unexpectedly Tuesday as he and his wife returned from a dancing vacation in Argentina.

"We are nothing short of devastated by this news and this incredible loss," Children's Hospital Boston Chief Executive Dr. James Mandell and Chairman of Medicine Dr. Gary Fleisher said in an e-mail to staff.

The Harvard Medical School professor collapsed after getting off a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, said family friend Nancy Teumer, speaking on behalf of the family.

Shannon and his wife, Elaine, were on a tango vacation to Argentina, where they danced every day into the wee hours of the morning, Fleisher said.

Shannon was known as the "dancing doctor" because he once danced professionally and continued dancing in Boston-area productions, including "Black Nativity" and the "Urban Nutcracker." He starred as Drosselmeier in the "Urban Nutcracker" during the 2008 holiday season, according to a hospital spokesman.

He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where efforts to revive him failed. The exact cause of death had yet to be determined, Teumer said Wednesday. He had no known health issues.

"He was in extremely good health," Fleisher said. "We trained together and ran the Boston Marathon in 1996, and he still worked out four or five days a week."

Shannon was one of the premier pediatric toxicologists in the world and an expert on the effects of environmental hazards in children, including cold medicines, other drugs and lead paint.

He helped write a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2003 that homes, schools and child care centers near nuclear power plants keep pills on hand to prevent thyroid cancer in the event of radiation release.

In 2005, Shannon served as a key witness for the state in Rhode Island's lawsuit against former lead paint companies. The jury found the three companies responsible for creating a public nuisance, but that verdict was overturned last summer by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Shannon, the first black division chief at Children's, was beloved by his colleagues and served as a mentor to many young doctors, Fleisher said.

"He was a gentle, thoughtful, giving person who helped develop the careers of so many fellows and residents," he said.

Shannon was a St. Louis native who developed his love of dance as an undergraduate at Washington University. He earned his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine.

In addition to his wife, Shannon is survived by two college-aged children, son Evan and daughter Lila. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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