At age 58, WakeMed physician assistant Ron Fazio, PA-C has had several exciting careers and lives his life with purpose. Following a few years in the NFL and a brief acting career, Ron has spent 14+ years working with WakeMed’s heart surgery team, helping many of our sickest patients live their lives to the fullest, too.
All his life, Ron has had a passion for learning new things and thriving as part of a team. In his hometown of Willingboro, New Jersey, he chose football over track and field for most of his school years, including college. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in Kinesiology, he received the phone call of his dreams: the Dallas Cowboys asked him to join the team as a free agent.
Joining the Dallas Cowboys
Ron headed to rookie camp where he had the incredible opportunity to join some of his childhood heroes like Tony Dorest, Danny White and Ed “Too Tall” Jones – and to play for the great Tom Landry. As a tight end, catching passes was Ron’s passion – until he broke his thumb during an early practice game. After a long recovery, that impacted his catching, Ron’s season ended early when he was cut by Coach Landry. He played the following year with the Philadelphia Eagles before calling it quits.
Becoming a Movie Actor
“After a few years, I knew I wasn’t impressing anyone in the NFL and it was time to move on,” explains Ron. The next phase of Ron’s life included a variety of jobs that were perfect for a young adult with an NFL build. He worked in several gyms, New York City bars and even as a movie actor, starring in The Toxic Avenger Parts 2 and 3 and even had a small role on The Sopranos.
Before long, though, Ron knew he wasn’t destined to be a lifelong actor, either. Fortunately – a rowdy night at work led Ron to find his true calling. While working as a bouncer, an encounter with some unruly guests left Ron with a minor injury that caused a fairly serious infection. During his week-long hospital stay, Ron received excellent care from a team of caregivers that included several physician assistants (PAs). Curious about what a PA career could look like, Ron asked a lot of questions that led him to return to school. After graduating from PA school with honors, he began work at the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, first as a General Surgery PA and then as part of their new heart surgery program.
Joining the Medical Field as a Physican’s Assistant
“I’ve always loved being part of a team – the fact that everyone has an important responsibility and that we’re always working toward a common goal is a great feeling,” Ron explains.
This philosophy guides his work at WakeMed, where he spends 40+ hours each week supporting cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons during long and complicated surgeries. During an open-heart procedure, heart surgeons have to essentially reroute bloodflow to get around or bypass blockages caused by heart disease. For some, this entails 2, 3, 4 or even 5 vein grafts – all of which will require grafted pieces of vein that are harvested from the saphenous vein in the leg.
While the surgeon is focused on the heart, providers like Ron remove the saphenous vein from the leg so it can be used to restore oxygen-rich bloodflow and bring patients back to better health. Endoscopic vein harvesting (EVH) is a technical procedure that requires great precision and practice, and Ron has over 25 years of experience.
“From the NFL to acting, to my career as a physician assistant – I’ve loved every job I’ve had,” explains Ron. “That said, being part of this heart surgery team at WakeMed is by far the most meaningful and rewarding of all. There’s no feeling like helping others – taking care of patients and seeing them on the road to recover is an amazing way to spend my days.”
Recently, Ron completed his 1000th EVH procedure at WakeMed – a milestone his colleagues are proud to recognize and acknowledge. “We’re grateful to Ron and his teammates for their contributions to our exceptional heart surgery program – they play a critical role in what we do on behalf of our patients every day,” explains Dr. Judson Williams, cardiovascular surgeon and executive medical director of WakeMed Heart & Vascular.