Early Start | A Cincinnati native, Shannon was in his third year at Xavier studying philosophy and physics when Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine offered him early admission. He took it and never looked back. Xavier has since awarded him an honorary doctorate with the missing bachelor of arts degree in tow.
A Kid At Heart | In high school, he taught sports to kids at the old Fenwick Club. The experience steered him into a residency in pediatrics at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. And that set him on a path of invention and discovery—from founding the nation’s first intensive care unit for children to encountering the world of Greece and its tight families.
Drafted | During the Vietnam War, Shannon served at Hanscom Air Force Base as a pediatrician for soldiers’ families. Two years later, he left for Massachusetts General Hospital.
Breathing Easy | “I just decided this is where I wanted to be because this is where the best science was,” he says. “My interest was in how the respiratory system works and my research was in how the brain controls the breathing muscles.”
Founding Father | In the late 1960s, he developed the first intensive care unit for children at Massachusetts General. The system became the national model.
Helping Kids | He also was a leader in the field of pulmonary medicine for children. As a pediatric physiologist, Shannon applied science to the study of respiratory systems of children. His research led to the use of an asthma drug, theophylline, to treat babies who stop breathing. He developed the electronic monitor that detects heart rate and breathing of babies in intensive care. It was eventually adapted for use at home to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Ivy League Connection | As a founding member of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, he developed a medical research program, oversaw the research and directed the respiratory course for 21 years. He remains director of admissions and faculty development.
It’s All Greek to Me | Because of his reputation, a wealthy Greek businessman, whose 3-year-old goddaughter was dying from a heart and lung infection, flew Shannon to Greece, and Shannon brought her to Boston on life support, treated her and sent her home healthy. The two families have been friends ever since. Shannon now speaks Greek, and the family gave more than $100,000 to a research program named after the girl.
Heartbreak | Shannon’s own daughter was 29 when she died on her honeymoon. His first wife died of a stroke in 1994. He dedicates research or cultural projects in their memories.
Balanced | Shannon keeps his busy life in perspective by balancing work—he still sees patients–and play. His hobbies include gardening, woodworking and playing piano, which he started at age 46 and reached symphony-level acumen.