Dr. Michael Shannon, one of the premier pediatric toxicologists in the world, died last week. He was 55. Shannon was also known as the “dancing doctor,” because he danced professionally and appeared in a number of Boston-area productions. (Banner file photo)
Dr. Michael Shannon, an internationally known specialist in the study and treatment of the effects of poisons in children, died unexpectedly last Tuesday as he and his wife returned from a dancing vacation in Argentina. He was 55.
“We are nothing short of devastated by this news and this incredible loss,” Children’s Hospital Boston Chief Executive Officer 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.
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 last Wednesday. Shannon had no known health issues.
Shannon and his wife, Elaine, were retuning from 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 Drosselmeyer in the “Urban Nutcracker” during the 2008 holiday season, according to a hospital spokesman.
“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.
“He certainly was still moving forward in many innovative ways to work toward improved health for children,” said Dr. Helen Binns of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “There’s just a great many people who will miss those contributions.”
In 2005, Shannon served as a key witness for the state in Rhode Island’s lawsuit against former lead paint companies. The jury found three companies responsible for creating a public nuisance, but the verdict was overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Dr. Judith Palfrey, the president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics who worked with Shannon, said he was an incredibly smart doctor and a creative researcher.
“He was a terrific doctor,” Palfrey said. “If you were sick, you wanted Mike to see you.”
Palfrey said Shannon was nationally known as a spokesman against drug and alcohol use among children and teenagers. He also worked to teach cities how to respond to disasters, especially in how to care for children during crises, she said.
“He’s really a huge leader — not just in the Boston area, but in the United States,” she said.
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.
Associated Press reporter Melissa Trujillo contributed to this report from Boston.
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