Michael Shevell was born in Côte Saint-Luc, Quebec, Canada in 1958. He received a DEC in Health Sciences from Marianopolis College in 1977, followed by an undergraduate degree in physiology (1980) and medicine (1984) at McGill University. He was inspired to pursue a career in Neurology through the integration of basic science, anatomy, and clinical cases in the Med I Central Nervous System course. He pursued residency in pediatrics and pediatric neurology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) and McGill with Drs. Gordon Watters, Bernard Rosenblatt, Kenneth Silver and Frederick Andermann. He acknowledges their engaged mentorship, dedication, and thoughtful teaching efforts for driving a passion to do even better for each child in his care.
Michael gravitated over time to the neurology of newborns and its relation to later neurodevelopmental disabilities. When Michael was training in neurology in the 1980’s, the real excitement was molecular genetics, so he pursued a fellowship in Dr. David Rosenblatt’s lab, focused on rare inborn errors of metabolism, learning the vocabulary of genetics. Through this training, he recognized the importance of phenotyping as central to understanding genotypes. Michael’s first paper in this area was on a deeply phenotyped cohort of children with benign familial neonatal seizures. When he obtained his first faculty position at MCH, he immediately developed a database to catalogue all the patients he encountered in his Pediatric Neurology practice. This database proved fundamental in his subsequent studies on the outcomes of neonates with encephalopathy. His contributions to defining the phenotypes of common neurological disorders of the young child is foundational to his contributions to the care of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Michael’s trainees will all recall his encouragement to listen to and observe the child and family in their care.
Training in pediatric neurology in the 1980’s Michael was impressed by how doors were “not just opening up – they were flung wide open” with the introduction of MRI and molecular diagnostics. He recalls seeing the first MRI that he had ordered for a clinical indication, and “seeing the answer right there.” Impressed by the MRI window to the developing brain, he considered molecular genetics to be a comparable cellular window. As his interests developed, Michael reflects the transition of his interests from the protein to the “bigger picture” of the child in their family.
Michael’s contributions to child health were synergistic with Dr. Annette Majnemer, his life partner. Michael and Annette started working together in the 1990’s, early in their respective careers. Interweaving their individual perspectives, they focused on the relationship between the neonatal neurologic and OT examinations with neurodevelopmental outcomes and on the etiology of global developmental delay. With both Michael and Annette grounding their work in the real-world questions being asked by clinicians and families in the Pediatric Neurology clinic, their collaboration grew over the next two decades with combined and independent research endeavors. Working with Annette, Michael “put the ‘neuro’ into neuro-disability” research and clinical care. His seminal studies influenced the early identification of disability, identifying children at risk for neurodevelopmental sequelae and possible predictive factors, and characterizing novel childhood disability sub-types. Michael’s academic activities consistently linked intrinsic (biologic, functional) and extrinsic (family, environmental) determinants of developmental disability, including the first observations of neuro-behavioral abnormalities in neonates with congenital heart disease even prior to surgery. Concurrently, Michael became increasingly engaged in addressing ethical and historical issues related to care provision. Together, his work provided a scientific rationale for the evaluation of childhood disability, and broadly influenced the practice of child neurology.
Complementing his impactful program of research is Michael’ passion for mentoring young people and trainees. He has supervised close to 50 pediatric neurology trainees, and numerous research trainees. He lectures internationally, across dozens of countries, as an invited expert and visiting professor, raising awareness of neurodevelopmental disabilities and reminding us all of the importance of attending to the whole child in our care and their family. Michael’s success as an educator and mentor is best reflected in the leadership roles his trainees and mentees have assumed and in crossing child-health disciplines; he has instilled a commitment to mentorship in each of his mentees, amplifying his impact as an educator.
Michael is also a passionate advocate for child health locally, nationally and internationally. For example, his leadership role in NeuroDevNet emphasizes the imperative to collaborate with various professional disciplines, methodologies, and perspectives to address and solve problems. Michael served in leadership roles for the Child Neurology Society including as Councillor for the Northeast (2017-2019), Awards Committee Member (2016-2019), and Chair of the Ethics Committee (1997-2009). He received the Child Neurology Society’s Hower Award in 2014, one of our Society’s highest recognitions, given annually to a person whom the Child Neurology Society deems has contributed greatly to the further understanding of neurological problems of childhood through research, teaching, clinical application, and leadership.
Michael has been similarly active in the International Child Neurology Association, including a long stint on its Executive Board, and Chairing the Scientific Programming Committee for the Xth (Montreal, 2006) and XIIIth (Iguazu Falls, 2014) World Congresses. Most recently, he has been appointed as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, elected on the basis of his demonstrated leadership, creativity, distinctive commitment to advance academic health sciences.
With this breadth of perspective and recognition by his university and peer communities, Michael became Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at McGill and Pediatrician-in-Chief of the Montreal Children’s Hospital in 2011. He served in this impactful role until 2021, overseeing the move of the department into a new hospital and robustly expanding scholarship and training activities throughout all sectors of departmental activities. Through this role he took particular pride in the success and diversity of the faculty that were recruited and supported. In our discussions, Michael also reflects how this leadership experience afforded him a broader view of the world that relates to how he sees his research contributions: striving to ensure his work is continuously meaningful and relevant in terms of outcomes that are relevant to the child and family.
Michael’s chief interests in his life outside of child neurology are his wife Annette, and their daughters, Allison and Meaghan. Allison is now a pediatric intensive care physician and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Epidemiology at McGill University, with a focus on investigating long-term outcomes after pediatric critical illness. Meaghan, after graduate studies in Human Rights, first coordinated the Global Child McGill research group and is now a consultant in the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion practice of an international firm that evaluates the effectiveness of programs established by NGOs throughout the world.