Our Family Biographies

Bio Notes on Dr. Matas

Dr. Rudolph Matas (1860-1957), physician and surgeon, was a medical pioneer honored both at home and throughout the world. He was born at the Louque Plantation in Bonnet Carre Parish of Louisiana where his Catalonian father was residient physician and pharmacist. In 1862, the family moved to New Orleans — there he was baptized Rudolpho Matas at The Church of the Immaculate Conception. The Matas family lived not only in Louisiana, but also in Brownsville, Texas, Metamoras, Mexico; and sometimes they traveled abroad. Young Rudolph became fluent in several languages.

After completing his secondary education in Metamoras, at seventeen Rudolph Matas entered the University of Louisiana Medical College, later renamed Tulane University. He received his degree in 1880 and then began his distinguished medical career.

Dr. Matas became a vanguard surgeon, physician, and lecturer: He was the first doctor to use a vascular surgical technique for aneurism, a suturing method called “The Matas Operation.” He was the first to understand the need to control the rate of intravenous infusion — he invented “The Matas Clamp” to regulate the rate of flow. Dr. Matas performed surgery using spinal anesthesia, a first in the United States. He was the first to prescribe a pre-surgical regimen for abdominal surgery. Dr. Matas also became an authority on Yellow Fever, an advocate of Carlos Finlay’s hypothesis that the Culex Mosquito spread the Yellow Fever epidemic. Dr. Matas saved the life of Major Gorgas, who later cleared the Panama area of Yellow Fever to prepare for the contruction of the Panama Canal.

Dr. Matas accepted many honors throughout his career. At 35, he became Professor of Surgery at Tulane, and he served as Chief Surgeon at Touro Infirmary from 1906 to 1935. In addition to many honorary degrees and fellowships, he received decorations from more than fourteen countries. He presided as president of medical societies here and abroad, including: The New Orleans Medical Society, The Louisiana Medical Society, The American Surgical Association, and The International Society of Surgery.

The American Medical Association gave Dr. Matas its first Distinguished Service Medal. At home, among his many honors, the medical library of Tulane University was dedicated to Rudolph Matas.

After his retirement from active practice, Dr. Matas wrote a history of Louisiana medicine. He died at the age of 98 in 1958 at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans.


Rudolph Matas, Cohn, Isidore, M.D. with Deutch, Herman, B.Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City,

New York, 1960.