Honoring the Life of Pioneering Colorectal Surgeon Victor Fazio, MD (1940-2015)

An international leader and local treasure

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On July 6, the colorectal surgery community experienced a great loss with the death of pioneering surgeon Victor W. Fazio, MD, after a long illness. The loss was especially acute at Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Fazio dedicated himself for over three decades as a surgeon, innovator and leader.

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Fazio_00104_72dpiDr. Fazio was one of the highest-regarded colorectal surgeons in the world. During his 33 years as the Chairman of Colorectal Surgery, he broke new ground with innovative techniques that changed the practice of colorectal surgery for surgeons across the globe. His contributions and care will have an everlasting influence upon Cleveland Clinic and the world of colorectal surgery.

“His legacy is one of generations of colorectal surgeons in the U.S. and abroad,” says James M. Church, MD, Director of the David G. Jagelman Inherited Colon Cancer Registries and Head of the Section of Endoscopy.

Leaving a tremendous legacy after 37 years

Dr. Fazio earned his medical degree from the University of Sydney in Australia and remained in Sydney to complete post-graduate work at St. Vincent’s Hospital. In 1971, he served in Vietnam with the Australian Surgical Team. Dr. Fazio completed a fellowship in surgery at the Lahey Clinic Medical Center in Boston before coming to Cleveland.

It didn’t take long for Dr. Fazio to establish an international reputation for innovation and surgical excellence. In 1975, he was selected to lead Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Colorectal Surgery. Under his direction, the department maintained preeminence in surgery for Crohn’s disease and performed more operations for ulcerative colitis than any other institution in the world. His interests and specialties included the treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and pelvic floor reservoir procedures for ulcerative colitis and familial polyposis. He married his genius with compassion to create innovative techniques that allowed patients to avoid the need for colostomies.

After chairing the Department of Colorectal Surgery for 33 years, Dr. Fazio was named chairman of the Digestive Disease Institute in January 2008.

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Superior surgeon and gifted mentor

Current Chairman of Colorectal Surgery Feza H. Remzi, MD, deems it a great honor to have been mentored by Dr. Fazio. “He built the greatest Department of Colorectal Surgery in the world. During his 33 years as chairman, he maintained the pre-eminence of a department of four colorectal surgeons and expanded it more than fourfold to a staff that now performs more than 5,000 surgeries annually,” Dr. Remzi says.

Dr. Fazio’s commitment to success extended well beyond surgical excellence, Dr. Remzi notes. “Dr. Fazio served as a source of inspiration to many, including myself,” he says. “I cannot say how fortunate I was to be mentored by such a tremendously skilled surgeon. He not only changed the course of my life, but also the lives of the generations of colorectal surgeons who studied under him and who have gone on to train others.”

Furthermore, Dr. Fazio’s commitment to his patients remains the most noteworthy aspect of his career. “He epitomized all the values that we hold dear, including a ‘Patients First’ philosophy long before it was articulated,” says Eric Klein, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute who trained under Dr. Fazio. “He was a true master surgeon.”

Honoring an accomplished life and career

Lauded for his hard work, dedication, commitment to perfection, professionalism and integrity, Dr. Fazio earned the admiration of his colleagues and students and gained respect from institutions and governments worldwide.

Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Fazio received abundant awards. He was the first holder of Cleveland Clinic’s Master Clinician Award in 1992 and the first recipient of the Alfred and Norma Lerner Humanitarian Award for his compassion. He was granted the Officer of the Order of Australia from the Australian government in 2004 and the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association’s 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Award. He also received Cleveland Clinic’s Teacher of the Year Award for 2005-2006. In April 2007, he was inducted into the prestigious European Surgical Association. In 2011, he retired from clinical practice.

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In 2008, to celebrate Dr. Fazio’s accomplishments and contributions to his field and honor his years of dedication to Cleveland Clinic, friends and colleagues announced a surprise fundraising effort supporting a $20 million initiative to establish the Victor W. Fazio, MD, Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The Victor W. Fazio, MD, Center for IBD advances patient care and research by supporting the close collaboration between the Colorectal Surgery and Gastrointestinal Departments and enhances the education and training of future IBD specialists who come to Cleveland Clinic from around the world. In addition, the core surgical rooms for Colorectal Surgery were upgraded to enhance laparoscopic and robotic surgery and other leading-edge procedures and a family lounge for the families of colorectal surgery patients was created to allow for more privacy and interaction with physicians.

A kindness that will be remembered

Dr. Fazio was a man of tremendous character and superior talent. He cherished his work, treasured his patients and deeply valued and cared for his staff.

Those who worked with Dr. Fazio over the years say his fine technical abilities and superb clinical judgment have been and will continue to be models of surgical and professional excellence for all who have worked alongside him.

“It has been truly an honor to follow in his footsteps as chairman of the Digestive Disease Institute,” says John Fung, MD, PhD, who has served as chairman since 2010. “Victor’s kindness, skill and compassion will never be forgotten by those who worked with him each and every day, but also by the patients who received help from him when there was no other help available.”

He is fondly remembered and dearly missed by all who worked beside, with and near him — nurses would often remark that he treated everyone and anyone with equal kindness and attention.  Dr. Fazio’s life and career accomplishments are true cornerstones of Cleveland Clinic’s exceptional reputation.