An ALS diagnosis often compels people to look forward to possible symptoms and challenges. It also provides a moment to look back at the fullness of life and reflect on the things that make us who we are. For Robert Fontello, that means reflecting on a lifetime of service that would make any person proud.
Bob Fontello was diagnosed with ALS in late February of 2021 after many months of symptoms, tests, and misdiagnoses. With his fresh diagnosis and in-person outreach limited due to COVID-19 precautions, his impressive story reached staff at The ALS Association before they could have the chance to meet him face-to-face.
Throughout his life, Bob Fontello has made a lasting impression on all who know him. He still recalls how his time playing football and baseball at Christiana High School in Newark, DE, shaped the man who he would become.
The foundations of his youth helped Bob become a success from the outset of his 25 years of service with the United States Marine Corps. He was Honorman at MCRD San Diego, CA, where he graduated from bootcamp at the top of his class. From there, he became a CH-53 crew chief and served in areas of conflict across the globe, including Bosnia, where he was part of the 24th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) who went behind enemy lines and rescued Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady after he was shot down in hostile territory.
In addition to his honorable work in conflict areas, Bob has special moments that bring much pride both to his family and him. Bob served as Flight Engineer for President Ronald Reagan on Marine One, a role that few others share. In 2000, Bob attained the rank of Sergeant Major, an accomplishment that less than 1% of Marines ever achieve.
Bob’s military career includes serving as Commander of the USMC Toys for Tots while stationed in Corpus Christi, TX. This altruistic role involved collecting and distributing toys to less fortunate children at Christmas.
After retiring from the Marines in 2002, Bob provided expertise and capable leadership while employed by Sikorsky Aircraft and Lockheed Martin. For the past several years, Bob has been the Operations Manager for the VH-92 (Marine One) Presidential Helicopter Program.
After a long and impressive career bringing him much pride, nothing gives Bob more joy than his family. He met his wife Pamela on Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Texas in January 2005 and quickly formed a close relationship. Even though he had retired from the Marines, Bob was fortunate to be in Corpus Christi for duties related to his service, while Pamela was there as a NICU RN at a local hospital. In August of 2008, Bob and Pamela married on the beach in Port Aransas, Texas and blended their families. Together, they share four children: Ryan Fontello, Marie Fontello, Dr. Chris Donaldson, and Kevin Donaldson. Sadly, they lost their daughter, Sarah, in 2008.
Bob is a proud grandfather to Emma, Claire, Carson, and Abby and, after seeing so much of the world in his lifetime, he is excited to see where their lives will lead in the future.
Even after receiving a diagnosis of ALS in early 2021, Bob is focused on living his life and looking to a bright future for himself, his wife, and his extended family. His symptoms began in late spring of 2020 and the process of getting a definitive diagnosis was more laborious than he would have ever expected.
Despite the challenges of getting answers for his evolving symptoms, Bob and Pamela have a great deal of praise for their Chapter care team. After many years in the Marines, Bob knows the importance of teamwork and everybody playing their roles effectively. Today, Bob has a wide-ranging group providing him care and understanding, including Dr. Zachary Simmons at The ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence at Penn State M.S. Hershey Medical Center; Dr. Phillip Vitacore, Neurologist at the Canandaigua, NY, VA Hospital; and Dr. Eufrosina Young at the VA Hospital in Syracuse, NY. He also has a faithful family provider in Troy, PA, Dr. Stephen Renzi, who has been with him throughout every challenge. The care through the Veterans Administration and at the Hershey ALS Treatment Center provide a level of relief in the face of a terrible disease.
“If something good can come from something as horrible as ALS, it would be becoming part of the Hershey ALS clinic family,” said Pamela. “Dr. Simmons and Susan Walsh, RN, and the entire team are not only skilled professionals, but they are truly a group of compassionate and empathetic people.”
Pamela, a nurse and Bob, a Marine, understand and respect the value of a team, so their appreciation for the team approach to ALS is rooted in personal experience. Thanks to the outstanding care Bob receives they continue to live their lives to the fullest, enjoying travel and family and friends.
“ALS has diminished Bob’s ability to function both physically and mentally,” added Pamela. “That said, ALS has brought precious whole new meaning to each day. While we grieve the plans we had dreamed about, we now embrace each day as a personal victory and hold great faith in God as we accept this journey and know that no matter the outcome, we have much to be grateful for in our lives.”
Throughout his life, Bob has fought and worked hard to achieve success, and not even ALS will stop that. He pushed himself in high school sports, attained each goal in the Marines, served his country in the face of great danger, and continues to selflessly give of himself to his family. Today, he brings that same tenacity to ALS and, with Pamela and many care professionals at his side, he is leading a new team that will not give up.
Bob has enrolled in the Healey ALS Platform Study, where he has a chance to be part of the research that leads to success in ALS treatments and a cure. He encourages others to join the ALS cause as volunteers, advocates, donors, and research participants. He readily shares his story with all so that others facing the challenges of ALS receive the best care.
Bob Fontello is continuing a life of service. Just as he has served others for many years, The ALS Association and our allies in care and research serve with him and for him, as one team, united in common purpose to end ALS.
Learn more about ALS, our programs, and how you can support the ALS cause at www.alsphiladelphia.org