Donn Anthony Fassero, M.D. was born January 15, 1942 in Ellensburg, Washington to Mary (Giolitti) and Peter Fassero and was raised in nearby Cle Elum. Growing up, Donnie, with his curly blond hair and bright blue eyes, could be seen walking between his father’s grocery store and his uncle’s hardware store, or down the alley to see grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbors—all living nearby and loving him.
A talented student, he graduated cum laude from the University of Washington with a degree in pharmacy and was a captain in the U.S. Army during the height of the Vietnam War. He began to think about a career in medicine after treating critically wounded soldiers at the Brook Army Medical Center Burn Unit in San Antonio. To save money before medical school he spent six months in Alaska working in a pharmacy on the isolated island of Kodiak, where he won the North Pacific Water Ski Contest. He attended Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington D.C. and graduated in 1974. During his time at Georgetown, Donn watched the Watergate scandal and anti-war and civil rights movements play out in his backyard. He also interned in a “non-European hospital” in Johannesburg, South Africa, allowing him to see the impact of apartheid firsthand. Before returning to the states, he traveled throughout Africa with a team of National Geographic photographers.
He did his general surgery internship and residency in orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and in 1975 he met his soulmate and the love of his life, Melodee Olson, who was an ICU nurse at the clinic. They married in 1977 and settled in Modesto, California, living a life full of family, friends, travel and adventure. From helicopter skiing and race car driving to mountain climbing and being a forever-student of golf, he supported every sport his children loved. Donn was an Eagle Scout and a loyal advocate for his son’s Boy Scout Troop 76. For over 20 years, he was a volunteer for a special clinic dedicated to helping severely disabled local children.
After 40 years, Donn had recently retired from his surgical career but was continuing his office practice at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation. Dr. Fassero made even the most difficult cases look easy, and his fellow physicians and staff loved working with him. He served as President of the California Orthopedic Association, on the Gould Medical Group and Memorial Hospital Board of Directors and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Board. His nurse, Jill Julio, who worked by his side for 27 years, calculated that he performed more than 26,000 knee and hip replacements in his career. Forming personal relationships with his staff and colleagues was profoundly rewarding to him, and he always made himself available as a friend.
Donn showed the human side of medicine in its purest form. He loved his patients and his patients loved him. He took extra time to visit them after surgery to engage in personalized care beyond what was required. He often voiced his concern that technology was replacing the doctor-patient relationship and was a strong advocate for devoting resources to “care first.” He succeeded in maintaining personalized care in an era when a computer screen can replace eye contact, and saw the time he spent with his patients as having the utmost value.
Donn loved incredibly, and was incredibly loved. And no one enjoyed his devotion more than his wife, children and grandchildren, who were always at the forefront of his mind. He made it a point to attend every family celebration, graduation or special event with open arms and a cheerful greeting. He was incredibly generous—bringing the best wine, treating everyone to special dinners and events, organizing trips for extended family, and going the extra mile for others. He was wildly successful in every measurable way, but never forgot his humble beginnings.
In recent years he suffered with disabling arthritis and was transitioning away from the work that he loved so much. He grew up in the Catholic Church and maintained a close relationship with God. We are comforted to know that he is now at peace, wrapped in the arms of his mother, father, favorite uncle and sister.
Donn is survived by his wife of 42 years, Melodee, his daughter Mia and her husband Charlie Wagner, his son Anthony and wife Kathryn, and his beautiful grandchildren Calvin, Otto and Mickey. We are grateful and blessed that he was in our lives and that he himself lived such a loving and full life.
A church service will be held on Saturday, March 9th at 1:30pm at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church at 1200 Maze Boulevard in Modesto.
If you are considering sending flowers or other material gestures of your love to the Fassero Family, we kindly ask that you use those funds to help others in our community by donating to the Society for Disabilities on behalf of Dr. Donn Fassero.
Society for Disabilities
1129 8th Street Suite 101
Modesto, CA 95354