At Home with Dr. Edward E. Mason

Published in September 2014 Issue             

When we hear the name Dr. Edward E. Mason, it is synonymous with “the father of obesity surgery” and when we think University of Iowa, we think of it being one of the birthplaces of obesity surgery.

The entire executive committee and myself had a chance to visit Dr. Mason at his home in Iowa recently in preparation for the Mason Lecture to be given by Dr. Mason himself on Nov 5th, 2014. At the age of 94, it is difficult for Dr. Mason to travel. Therefore, we are planning for him to give his lecture from Iowa. Our visit was not only enlightening but it was memorable.

We all learned tremendously the history of bariatric surgery from the man who started it all. Bariatric surgery is now commonly being performed for the treatment of severe obesity, but that was not so in the 1960s. The history of bariatric surgery dates back to 1966 when Dr. Mason performed the first gastric bypass at the University of Iowa. The procedure at that time was specifically a Bilroth II loop gastric bypass. That operation was performed similarly to an operation of subtotal gastrectomy with Bilroth II reconstruction that was performed for intractable gastric ulcer disease.

One of the undesirable side effects of subtotal gastrectomy operation was weight loss. Dr. Mason took the undesirable side effect observed after a subtotal gastrectomy and made it desirable in the treatment of severe obesity. Dr. Mason had later become a passionate advocate for the vertical banded gastroplasty, otherwise known as the VBG, which he began performing in 1980. He pointed to the operation's simplicity and the fact that it restricts food intake, but otherwise does not alter normal digestive functioning.

The Early Years

Dr. Mason was born on October 16, 1920 in Boise, Idaho. His father was Edward F. Mason who taught photojournalism at UI and his mother was an accomplished sculptor.

His family moved to Iowa City when he was 9 years old. He obtained his undergraduate degree and went to medical school at University of Iowa. Subsequently, he completed his PhD in surgery at University of Minnesota. In 1944, Dr. Mason married Dodana who received her master’s in nutrition from UI. They had four children -- 1 daughter and 3 boys. To date, they have 17 grandchildren and
great grandchildren.

Establishment of the ASBS

Dr. Mason was instrumental in establishing the American Society of Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) in 1983. Dr. Mason began an annual postgraduate course for the surgical treatment of obesity called the “bariatric surgery colloquium” at the University of Iowa with the first one in 1979. In 1983 at the bariatric surgery colloquium, the ASBS was officially formed with approximately 70 members in attendance. The name “bariatric” was used by Dr. Mason to lessen the patient’s unjustified self-blame for obesity.

Dr. Mason was the first president of the ASBS and served between 1983-1985. Another important contribution from Dr. Mason was his initiative to track outcomes of patients who underwent bariatric surgery years before anyone did and he initiated the International Bariatric Surgery Registry in 1996, which had accrued more than 30,000 patients.

I was able to review the first gastric bypass workshop that was held at the University of Iowa in 1977. Interestingly, a chapter from this meeting was on data from diabetes, blood pressure, and laboratory tests after gastric bypass. An excerpt from this chapter stated that of 588 patients, 8% had diabetes. After surgery, 17 of 30 patients claimed that they were no longer diabetics based on a questionnaire and two of the patients who previously took insulin no longer needed it. I was amazed as to the degree of recording of data by Dr. Mason and his colleagues on what we now call metabolic surgery.


Dr. Mason is 94 and lives with his wife Dordana who is 92. They still live in the same house they bought to be in close proximity with University of Iowa, so he can be close to care for his patients. He enjoys taking naps, taking care of their house, and exercise. He swims 12-18 laps each day after lunch, five days a week. Dordana reads a book each day and chooses them from the public library.

We were all blessed to have this opportunity to visit Dr. Mason and learn the history as seen from the man who started it all. I invite you to attend the Mason Lecture on Nov 5th and hear our tribute to the “father of obesity surgery.”