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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 06:32 am

A renowned physician who wasn’t afraid to go against the grain

DR. THOMAS G. SHANAHAN March 3, 1957 – Nov. 9, 2011

Dr. Thomas Shanahan of Springfield wasn’t the type to let success go to his head.

A world-renowned doctor at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Shanahan created a specialized prostate cancer treatment that has become the de facto standard. He traveled the world to teach his method to other doctors. He developed a custom platform now widely used for scanning a patient’s stomach in an MRI machine. He achieved a 65 percent cure rate for his prostate cancer patients. He even served a brief term as a Springfield city alderman.

Despite his accomplishments, Shanahan’s colleagues and patients say he remained humble, caring and passionate about his work. Shanahan died Nov. 9, 2011, in mysterious circumstances which are under investigation.

Thomas Shanahan was born March 3, 1957, in Chicago. He served as a medic in the U.S. Army before attending medical school at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, graduating in 1986. Before moving to Springfield in 2000, Shanahan worked as a radiation oncologist at the Chicago Prostate Cancer Center and Carle Clinic in Champaign.

During his time in Springfield, Shanahan gained a reputation among his patients and colleagues as a dedicated doctor and genuinely caring person. An online obituary of Shanahan hosted by Butler Funeral Homes of Springfield features several comments from thankful people who say Shanahan provided them or their loved ones with skilled care and comforting words. Some even say Shanahan saved their lives.

Stephen Reindl of Taylorville calls Shanahan an angel. Reindl’s mother, Mary Reindl, was misdiagnosed by other doctors before Shanahan looked into her case, Stephen Reindl says. Shanahan ordered a simple procedure that Reindl says prolonged his mother’s life. Mary Reindl died of cancer in August.

“He spent hours and hours trying to figure out what needed to be done,” Reindl said of Shanahan. “It was amazing. He gave us about nine or ten months that we wouldn’t have had. He came down to mom’s and brought ice cream one day just to check on her. That’s what kind of guy he was.”

Shanahan wasn’t shy about going against the grain to question other doctors, Reindl said.

“He took a lot of flak, I’m sure of it,” Reindl said. “The guy spent many hours of his own time challenging the system, knowing that what was right was not done and knowing that he was going to take flak from it. He didn’t waiver from it, not a bit. He had to make moves that other people wouldn’t have done, to say that what’s right is right. … He was just amazing.”

Marge Cox of Vermont, Ill., says Shanahan saved her husband, Travis Cox, from prostate cancer. Shanahan made the situation easier by giving the couple plenty of time and attention, Marge Cox says.

“He was always very kind and had time to talk with you,” Marge Cox says. “He would answer any question you had. He was just a very kind and caring physician.”

She says Shanahan offered moral support on top of his duties as a doctor.

“He definitely gave us hope,” Cox said. “It’s a real tragedy that he’s gone. I think he just was very easy to talk with, just a great person. He was so talented, and we are so sorry that others aren’t going to benefit from his knowledge and expertise.”

Shanahan, 54, left behind a wife, Gloria, and three daughters – Michelle, Angela and Kelly.

Ward 1 alderman Frank Edwards said he and Shanahan met when Shanahan moved to Springfield and looked at a house next door to Edwards. The two men “clicked,” Edwards says, and Edwards eventually appointed Shanahan to finish Edwards’ term as alderman from January to April of 2011. Edwards had been selected by the city council as interim mayor after former mayor Tim Davlin’s death in December 2010.

Edwards said he chose Shanahan as his replacement because Shanahan was more concerned with the good of the city than with politics. Still, Edwards says, Shanahan would often challenge him rather than “rubber stamp” Edwards’ ideas.

“He was interested in trying to make a difference in peoples’ lives for the better,” Edwards said. “He took the job seriously and became an advocate for things he thought were important.”

Edwards says he and Shanahan would often send text messages back and forth during the day to keep in touch. Edwards kept all of Shanahan’s texts, which he says he sometimes rereads to remember Shanahan.

“I think there’s a lot of people sitting out there besides me who really miss the guy,” Edwards said. “I will miss him tremendously. I didn’t get to know him long enough.”  

–Patrick Yeagle

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