University of California San Francisco

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Stephen J. Mathes, MD

Professor Emeritus of Surgery


    Dr. Stephen Mathes died on November 20, 2007 after a long and valiant battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). He was born and raised in New Orleans and attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and obtained his medical degree at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. In 1970-1972, he served as a major in the US Army Medical Corps and was Assistant Chief of Surgery at Fort Polk Army Hospital in southwest Louisiana where he treated soldiers wounded in Vietnam.

    Dr. Mathes then completed general surgery and plastic surgery training at Emory University in Atlanta. Driven by his experience working as a surgeon at Fort Polk, he began to study anatomical preparations and sought new approaches to reconstructive surgery. This work resulted in the discovery of musculocutaneous flaps - later to be taught and adopted nationally and internationally for the coverage of previously untreatable wounds.

    He chose an academic career in surgery and in 1977 published his first textbook Clinical Atlas of Muscle and Musculocutaneous Flaps. This text showed the vascular anatomy of flaps throughout the body and demonstrated how to move healthy tissue as needed to various sites. In 1978, Dr. Mathes moved to San Francisco to join the faculty at UCSF. Here he was involved in basic science and clinical research that was supported by the NIH and other grants. Over 42 research fellows from the United States, Europe, and Asia were supervised in his laboratory or on clinical projects. The basic science work done in his laboratory was successfully applied by plastic surgeons around the world to treat deformities and wounds.

    In 1984, Dr. Mathes became Professor of Surgery at UCSF and, in 1985, was appointed head of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Residency Program Director. During his 26 years on the faculty at UCSF, 62 residents completed their plastic surgery training. Dr. Mathes received numerous awards recognizing his basic science and clinical research, including six first prize awards from the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation extending from 1981-1999. Other awards include: Special Achievement Award from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and Best Medical Book Award from the American Medical Writers Association. Dr. Mathes was a member of 32 national and international professional societies.

    He served as Chairman of the Plastic Surgery Research Council, director of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, chair of the Residency Review Committee for Plastic Surgery, president of the Association of Academic Chairman in Plastic Surgery, president of the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation, and trustee for the American Association of Plastic Surgery. He published over 233 peer-reviewed papers and chapters as well as six books, including the eight volume edition of Plastic Surgery published in 2006. He was a visiting professor in over 25 countries, delivered over 400 formal lectures, and participated in symposia throughout the world. 

    Dr. Stephen Mathes was a towering figure in 20th century plastic and reconstructive surgery. He was a role model, educator, mentor and a gifted surgeon and will be remembered by his family, many friends and those he trained as brilliant, creative, supportive, energetic, lively and fun-loving. He leaves his wife, Mary H. McGrath, MD; his mother, Norma D. Mathes; his sons David W. Mathes, MD and wife Amanda, Brian A. Mathes and wife Vaso and their children Zoe and Norah, Edward J. Mathes and wife Erin Mathes, MD; his brothers Paul Mathes of New Orleans, LA and Peter Mathes of Cookson, OK; and many friends and colleagues the world over.

    All donations in memory of Dr. Mathes be made to the Stephen J. Mathes Endowed Chair Fund at UCSF Foundation, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, California, 94145-0339. This fund will be the first endowment within the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and will serve as a lasting tribute to Dr. Mathes.