American Surgical Association Transactions

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1923 - 2021

Robert Mark Vetto M.D., 1923-2021

Robert Mark Vetto MD, DSc, FACS was born June 17th, 1923 in Spokane, WA. He was the first of two sons born to Anthony and Amelia Vetto, who immigrated to the United States from northern Italy. Mark had what he described as an idyllic childhood along with his younger brother growing up in Spokane. He excelled in his academic studies and also enjoyed many hobbies, including ham radio and photography. During high school and college Mark was a semi-pro golfer. He attended Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga College in Spokane, and then Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

During his college, medical school years, and internship Dr. Vetto was enlisted in the U.S. Navy Stateside (Naval ROTC). He interned at Kings County Hospital (Now SUNY Downstate) in Brooklyn, and after completion was drafted into the Korean War as a Navy surgeon and treated wounded soldiers in Okinawa and Japan. After the war Dr. Vetto was deployed to the San Diego Naval Base at Oak Knoll where, because of his special training in the use of iron lungs, he was placed in charge of the polio ward. There he reconnected with Navy Nurse and former friend from his medical school days, Marianne Tyson. They were married Sept. 17th, 1951. Mark and Marianne were later transferred to the U.S. Naval Base in Bremerton, WA where the first of their six children, Robert Mark Jr., was born.

Mark then entered a six-year surgical residency at the University of Cincinnati under the direction of Dr. Robert Altemeier, who was a pioneer in surgical infection control. Dr. Vetto stayed at Cincinnati an extra year in what would now be considered a fellowship, obtaining a Doctorate in Surgical Science (DSc) with a focus on thoracic and vascular surgery. The family, which by now included four children, then moved to Portland, OR where Mark had accepted a position from the new Chairman of Surgery at the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU), Dr. J Engelbert Dunphy, as Chief of the Department of Surgery at the Portland VA Hospital (PVAH). Dr Vetto served as VA Chief for 25 years, with a joint appointment in the Department of Surgery at OHSU, rising through the ranks to become Professor, and training countless future surgeons.

Early in his career, Dr. Vetto published the first American series of patients treated for vascular occlusive disease of the lower extremities with femoral-femoral bypass. This operation gave birth to the entire surgical field of extra-anatomic operations designed to avoid amputation. Never one to "rest on his laurels", Dr. Vetto went on to pioneer the first kidney transplants in the Pacific Northwest, and took his interest in immunology to an even higher level by heading a research team at the PVAH to develop the earliest forms of cancer immunotherapy. In 1986 Dr. Vetto accepted a position as Director of Surgery at Providence St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center in Portland where he continued to mentor future physicians until his retirement 10 years later. Mark published over 200 scientific peer-reviewed papers on general and vascular surgery, transplantation, immunotherapy, and surgical oncology. A strong advocate for regional surgical societies, Dr. Vetto served as President of the Portland Surgical Society, the North Pacific Surgical Association, and the Pacific Coast Surgical Association.

Mark was a devoted husband and father, and his family and Catholic faith were central to his life. He enjoyed traveling and skiing with his wife and family as well as spending time with them in Central Oregon, the Washington Coast, and Palm Springs.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Amelia and Anthony of Spokane and by his brother and fellow surgeon Roy Vetto of Seattle. He is survived by his beloved wife of almost 70 years Marianne, his sons Robert Mark Vetto Jr., Dr. Thomas Vetto (Nora Martin), and Dr. John Vetto (Irene Perez), his daughters Dr. Anne Vetto (Patrick Dolan), Gretchen Vetto-Dann (Jim Dann), and Jane Vetto-Dawson (John Dawson), and nine grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother's family in Seattle, WA as well as by numerous nephews and nieces and his brother-in-law on the east coast, and family in northern Italy.