Dance Marathon: Doctor spreads joy over 33-year career


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The UI Children’s Hospital is rarely somber.

Instead, children play loudly in the bursting playrooms, all smiles and giggles. They seem almost excited to be there.

Raymond Tannous is no doubt part of the reason for these children’s high spirits.

Tannous, the director of UI pediatric hematology, oncology, and immunology, is well known around the pediatrics floors for his tendency for teasing and strong connections with patients.

“It’s a beautiful relationship that is beyond anybody’s comprehension,” he said.

He has been a member of the pediatrics department since 1977. And although 33 years have passed, his passion for the job is still as palpable as if it were his first day.

While studying medicine in France, Tannous became interested in becoming a pediatrician. There, he helped care for a child with leukemia, and “nothing went well” with the case.

“The idea of a child suffering was something that was not acceptable,” he said. “So, you wonder if you can do anything to change that.”

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The native of Lebanon soon came to the United States and the UI. More than three decades later, he seems to remember each of his patients well.

He recalled how one mother of a patient who had died spiraled into a deep depression each month, the day before the anniversary of her child’s death.

Tannous began to call her on that day until she improved.

He remembered the little boy who loved to tell jokes, so he and Tannous prepared their best ones before each meeting. During any procedure, the boy would tell Tannous a joke until it was over.

Sheila Baldwin, the executive director of development for the UI Children’s Hospital at the UI Foundation, has known Tannous for more than 20 years.

“He is as passionate about caring for families and children as he is about caring for their medical needs,” said Baldwin, who was once one of Tannous’ patients.

Ayman El-Sheik, a UI clinical assistant professor of pediatric hematology and oncology at the Children’s Hospital, echoed Baldwin.

“He is very caring and loves his work,” El-Sheik said.

That work includes Dance Marathon.

Tannous said since the organization’s inception in 1994, he has done “everything imaginable” with the group, from giving speeches at events to leading tours of the hospital to cross-dressing for a morale program. He’s also seen Dance Marathon’s impact.

“I can’t sing enough praises of what I see,” he said. “It’s an inspiration.”

Last year, the 66-year-old announced his decision to step down as head of the division, and he said he could see himself retiring sometime in the near future.

“But I would work here till the day I die if they needed me,” he said.

He knows his department will have plenty of help.

“It’s beyond belief,” he said. “They’ve become a lifeline for [pediatrics].”

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