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Hopkins Medicine Magazine - Stress Savant

Hopkins Medicine Winter 2013

Stress Savant

Date: February 1, 2013

Bob Mason’s work led to the creation of the treadmill exercise test.

Stress was something Baltimore cardiologist Robert E. “Bob” Mason ’42, learned about early in his medical career.

His internship and residency at Hopkins were interrupted during World War II by service as an Army Medical Corps lieutenant. In June 1944, he landed with U.S. troops on Omaha Beach two days after D-Day and helped set up a field hospital in St. Lo, where he performed triage on wounded soldiers, making life-or-death decisions constantly about those who might be saved and those who likely were beyond saving. Later, as U.S. forces advanced and the hospital was moved to Liège, Belgium, it was hit by what he called “one of those infernal buzz bombs” lobbed by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was lucky to escape alive.

Mason, who later developed the 12-lead treadmill exercise test that has become standard worldwide for the detection of coronary artery disease, died of pneumonia in Baltimore on Oct. 24, at the age of 95.

After the war, Mason joined such prominent local physicians as Benjamin M. Baker Jr. ’27, Louis Hammond, and Charles Wainright in establishing a private practice in Baltimore, next door to the renowned Belvedere Hotel. He also renewed his association with Hopkins Hospital, where he taught clinical skills for decades. His skill as a diagnostician was such that patients came from Central and South America to see him. He taught himself Spanish so he could communicate directly with them. In 1965 he developed what originally was called the Mason Stress Test, an in-exercise, electrocardiographic examination that indicated whether a patient had coronary disease requiring by-pass surgery or angioplasty.

His son, cardiologist Steven J. Mason, an assistant professor of medicine in the School of Medicine, said that his father had been “intrigued and disturbed by motion artifact,” the noise that the movement of the electrode introduced to the electrocardiogram signal, “so he developed a silver electrode that filtered it away.” That invention led to creation of the treadmill stress test—which can record cardiac electrical impulses while a patient is moving.  Mason donated to Hopkins the patent he received for the silver electrode.

The elder Mason, a longtime member of the Hopkins Hospital board of trustees, also was involved extensively in improving health care in Nepal. Initially traveling there to work at a Protestant missionary hospital, he later was head of a group of physicians who studied the health care needs of northwestern Nepal. They prepared a study for the nation’s king, reporting that a lack of iodine there led to extensive thyroid problems in the region. NAG


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