John Linner was a pioneer in the field of bariatric surgery, and his groundbreaking research led to the world’s first published account of a weight-loss operation.
The Edina surgeon teamed with Dr. Arnold Kremen to perform an intestinal bypass at the former Mount Sinai Hospital in Minneapolis in 1954. Over the next 40 years, he became an expert on ways to treat obese people surgically. He published several articles and a book on the subject, served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and won awards from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
“He maintained an interest at a time when surgeons didn’t like caring for the obese, and surgery was difficult and prone to complications,” said Dr. Raymond Drew, who joined Linner’s practice in 1979. “People with obesity suffer in mobility, social interaction, job opportunities and all the medical complications that come with that. The surgery turns people’s lives around. He liked to help people. His patients adored him.”
Linner died Nov. 8 at Methodist Hospital Hospice in St. Louis Park of complications from a fall. He was 95.
The son of a doctor, Linner developed a curiosity for life and medicine as a young boy. He graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., before finishing first in his class at the University of Minnesota Medical School, family members said.
Linner had just finished his residency in internal medicine at Harvard University when he joined the U.S. Navy. He received two battle stars while serving as a doctor during the Normandy invasion and at Okinawa. He kept a diary and published his thoughts in the book “Normandy to Okinawa: A Navy Medical Officer’s Diary and Overview of WWII.”
“On that ship, he resolved that he’d never get something he could not handle, and that he would know how to use a scalpel,” said his wife, Evodia.
Linner continued his research into obesity while working as a general surgeon at Metropolitan Medical Center and Swedish, Fairview Southdale and Abbott Northwestern hospitals. That led to the book “Surgery for Morbid Obesity,” published in 1984.
Linner was a past president of the Minneapolis Surgical Society, a member of the American Medical Association and clinical professor of surgery at the U. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery from 1991 to 1992 and received the organization’s outstanding achievement award in 2005.
Family members say Linner was most proud of being remembered as a doctor who was dedicated to his patients and who kept up with them long after they left the hospital. Patients showered him with thank-you notes, his wife said.
“He enjoyed medicine and considered it a value he could bring to the world,” said his daughter Andrea Bruner, of Minneapolis. “Service to country and service to patient. That is what drove my father.”
Linner was proud of his Swedish heritage and was a lifetime member of the American Swedish Institute. He was a longtime member of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, the Gustavus Alumni Association and Minneapolis Rotary Club.
Besides his wife, Linner is survived by five daughters, including Bruner; Kristin Linner of Hugo; Jennifer Groth of Oceanside, Calif.; Elisabeth McClure and Victoria Wilson of Edina; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.