FAZIO, VINCENT WARREN III (2 Feb. 1940-5 July 2015) was an Australian-born colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. His work primarily focused on colorectal cancer and irritable bowel syndrome. Fazio was one of the youngest department chiefs in Cleveland Clinic history, serving as the head of colorectal surgery when he was only 35 years old.
Fazio was born in Sydney, Australia to Vincent Warren Fazio II and Kathleen Hills in 1940. His father, a decorated naval officer, passed away when he was only 11 years old. In 1957, Fazio began attending the University of Sydney Medical School, which was covered through a legacy for children of war veterans. Although Fazio failed two years of medical school, leaders of the legacy program saw promise in him and continued to support his education. Fazio graduated in 1964 and did his postgraduate work at St. Vincent’s Hospital. By 1971, he was a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and served in the Vietnam War with the Australian surgical team.
Despite initial plans of becoming a general practitioner in Taree, by 1972, he began a surgical fellowship in the United States. He spent a year in Boston at the Lahey Clinic with Dr. Ken Warren as a hepatobiliary fellow, which deals with the liver, bile-ducts, and gallbladder. A year later, in 1973, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to work in the CLEVELAND CLINIC’s Department of Colon and Rectal Surgery with Dr. Rupert Turnbull. Only a year after his arrival, Fazio was selected to be chair of the Department of Colorectal Surgery.
Underneath his direction, the Cleveland Clinic became one of the world’s leading institutions on inflammatory bowel diseases, specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. One avenue of treatment heavily researched by Fazio was the use of ileal pouches (ileal pouch anal anastomosis) instead of colostomy pouches, which are used when the large intestine and bowels must be removed. Ileal pouches collected and stored stool inside of the body while colostomy pouches stored stool outside of the body. Although ileal pouches are riskier than colostomy pouches, increasing research and innovations have been made that increase the safety of these interventions. He also researched methods of preserving the small intestines in patients with Crohn’s disease.
Fazio’s international reputation was proven in 1981, when he received a phone call from Rome requesting help; Pope John Paul II had been the victim of an assassination attempt and they wanted Fazio’s opinion. While this incident highlights his importance to the field of medicine, it is not the only instance where the international community acknowledged his contributions. In 1992, he was the first to receive the Cleveland Clinic’s Master Clinician Award. Also in 1992, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation granted him the Premier Physician Awards in recognition of his work on inflammatory bowel diseases. He was inducted into Cleveland’s Medical Hall of Fame and was awarded the Al and Norma Lerner Humanitarian award in 2002. The Cleveland Clinic also granted him the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2005. The Australian government gave him the Officer in the Order of Australia award in 2004; Fazio also received multiple honorary degrees from international universities, including the University of Sydney. He was inducted into the European Surgical Association in 2007. Although he retired in 2011, Lifetime Achievement gave him the Physician of the Year Award in 2014.
Outside of his own research and surgeries, Fazio served as an important mentor and teacher to younger doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. Sources claim that he received the Teacher of the Year Award twice at the Clinic. Those who worked under him noted his patience and empathy with both his patients and his peers. Fazio prioritized clear communication, encouraging his mentees to use vocabulary accessible to the reader. From 1995 to 1996, he was the president of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. He also served as the editor of the Disease of Colon and Rectum journal for ten years, although some sources claim he was the editor for eighteen years.
Outside of his medical career, Fazio married his wife, Carolyn Sawyer. They had three children, Victor, David, and Jane. In 2015, he passed after a long battle with leukemia. Although a funeral was held in SHAKER HEIGHTS, his burial site is in Tinonee, Australia.
Like many other notable doctors, Fazio’s legacy resulted from more than just his surgical skills or medical proficiency. Instead, his greatest impact on the field of medicine can be seen through his work with other doctors. Following his passing, obituaries and articles were published by his former students, praising not just his medical knowledge but also the manner in which he interacted with patients and students. His research also demonstrates his compassion; many of his publications focus on the quality of life and care received by his patients. Additionally, former patients of his have spoken about the kindness and compassion he showed them during treatment. In honor of his dedication to patients, his friends, family, and colleagues collected $20 million to create the Victor W. Fazio, MD, Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in 2008. The center promotes education and training, funds technological upgrades, and works with other departments to pioneer new research on inflammatory bowel diseases. Even without the center, Fazio’s legacy remains in the lives of patients’ he helped and students he taught.
Last updated: 11/29/2022
“Ileal Pouches.” Cleveland Clinic. Last updated on October 8, 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/15549-ileal-pouches
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