Dr. Otto Willbanks was the second surgeon in purely private practice who rose to the pinnacle of leadership in the ASBS. Dr. Willbanks operated primarily at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. From 1984 to 1989, we had worked in the same hospital and gotten to know one another well. He was a bit of an enigma. He often appeared in the hospital wearing his tweed coat with a little bit of a shuffling gate, and a warm smile that belied an extremely pleasant personality.
He truly believed in bariatric surgery and had published numerous papers on the subject. He was one of the early advocates of gastric procedures championing the vertical gastric partition and some type of outlet reinforcement of the gastric tube. Access to the life-saving procedures for the largest number of patients was Dr. Willbanks’ passion. Prior to his presidency, Willbanks had worked diligently to encourage malpractice insurance companies to provide surgeons with coverage for bariatric procedures. He chaired committees and made poignant presentations to combat the prejudices that these companies held towards bariatric surgeons.
During his presidency, he focused his entire energy, and the energy of the organization, to point out the inequities that patients faced when surgeons were not able to obtain coverage for surgical intervention. Although the advances made were modest, they were substantive in nature and started the movement that would ultimately change how insurance companies viewed these procedures. A wonderful man of extreme intelligence whose patients truly appreciated the battles he fought for them and on their behalf.
These remarks were written by J. Patrick O’Leary, MD