WASHINGTON — Paul Mason was once one of the world’s fattest men, tipping the scales at 980 pounds. He had bariatric surgery in 2010 that left him 650 pounds lighter, but with a dangerous amount of excess skin.
“This was definitely an extreme case,” says Bethesda plastic surgeon Joe Michaels, part of a team that removed approximately 48 pounds of Mason’s skin during a nine-hours-plus operation Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
They started with his abdomen, and once they determined Mason was stable, they moved on to remove all the excess skin on his thighs that was creating problems with balance and walking.
The three doctors involved — lead surgeon Jennifer Capla from Lenox Hill, J. Peter Rubin from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Michaels — all donated their services, as did the hospital. None had ever operated on a patient who had lost so much weight.
Mason is British, and while the state health system there agreed to pay for his bypass surgery, it would not provide a follow-up operation to remove excess skin, even though it was the source of recurrent infections.
It was Capla, the surgeon with Lenox Hill Hospital, who first heard of his plight. She reached out to Mason, and assembled a team of specialists in post-weight loss body contouring — the fastest growing trend in plastic surgery.
Michaels says an explosion in bariatric surgery is fueling the demand, with more than 200,000 gastric bypass operations performed each year.
He estimates that about 80 percent of those patients want to have body contouring, and about a third actually go through with it. Insurance generally only helps with the costs when the excess skin is proven to be a health hazard, putting the surgery out of reach of some. There also is a problem of access, since the procedure requires a doctor with special training,
For those patients that do get loose skin removed after significant weight loss, the benefits can be enormous.
“There is a lot of research that recently has come out that shows that patients who have body contouring after their weight loss, are better able to maintain that weight loss over the long term,” Michaels says.
He calls these operations to remove loose skin “life changing.” That was certainly the case for Paul Mason, who is doing well post-op, and will have more surgery down the road to remove excess skin from his arms and back.