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1920 - 2020

Edward E. Mason, M.D., 1920-2020

We are all saddened by the passing of Dr. Edward Eaton Mason who has been called the "Father of Bariatric Surgery". He died on December 29, 2020 at Walden's Place in Iowa City at the age of 100.

Dr. Mason was an only child born in the backseat of a taxi cab in Boise, Idaho on October 16, 1920. His father Edward Files Mason became a professor of photojournalism at the University of Iowa in 1929. His mother Dora Eaton Mason was a teacher and gifted sculptress who created the original bust of Nile Kinnick (1939 Heisman Trophy winner). Dr. Mason graduated from Iowa City High School in 1939, received his BA from the University of Iowa in 1943 and his MD from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1945. He married the love of his life Dordana Fairman Mason in 1944 who was a dietitian at the University of Iowa. She cared for patients with anorexia, while he treated the obese. They met while canoeing on the Iowa River and were married for 71 years until Dordana passed away in 2015.

Dr. Mason received his surgical training at the University of Minnesota with Dr. Owen Wangensteen where he conducted laboratory research in the late 40s doing seminal work related to gastric physiology, digestion, and the surgical treatment of duodenal ulcer. He received his PhD in Surgery from the University of Minnesota in 1953. Despite being discouraged from returning to Iowa "because he would be too busy clinically there", Dr. Mason joined the Department of Surgery at the University of Iowa in 1953, where he remained for the rest of his career, also serving as acting Head of the Department from 1981-82. Dr. Mason became a member of the American Surgical Association in 1973.

In 1965 Dr. Mason did a series of experiments with Dr. Chikashi Ito from Sapporo, Japan to see if it would be safe to treat peptic ulcer disease with gastric bypass. It soon became apparent that ulcer disease was not helped by gastric bypass, but the obese patients lost weight and gastric bypass surgery for obesity was born. He continued to refine and develop operations for obesity, including what is commonly referred to as "Mason's Roux-Y gastric bypass", and the first vertical banded gastroplasty. Though out his life, Dr. Mason continued to be extremely interested in the role of surgery in treating obesity, as well as the development of non-surgical means of treating obesity and type-II diabetes.

Dr. Mason continued to publish articles on gastrointestinal physiology and obesity and remained intellectually involved in the refinement of bariatric surgery for his entire career. He authored more than 200 papers and book chapters. He published 5 books, the first in 1964 titled "Computer Applications in Medicine." His fifth book "A Fat Chance" an autobiography was published on his 100th birthday. Dr. Mason founded the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, serving as its first president in 1983. The first several meetings were actually held at Dr. Mason's back yard, and this society has now grown into the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery which has over 4,000 members. It is fitting that Dr. Mason has the honor of being considered the "Father of Bariatric Surgery." Based on his innovative contributions to obesity surgery, Dr. Mason was awarded the ASA Medallion for the Advancement of Surgical Care in 2013.

On a personal note, Dr. Mason was an extremely humble and thoughtful individual. He embodied all that is good in our profession of academic surgery. He was an innovator, an educator, and first and foremost, he was a surgeon. His hobbies were swimming, photography, camping in the North Woods of Minnesota, writing, and babysitting his family. He swam a half-mile every day at noon until he was 96 years old.

We will all miss him.