Dr. Mauricio Heilbron: “My “people” keep coming to work”

My “people” keep coming to work. And by “my people”, I mean the nurses, technicians, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and other doctors. None of us have ever seen or done ANYTHING like this before. This situation has caused the government, the scientific/medical community, the hospital administrators, and the public to throw stuff at us at a […]

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My “people” keep coming to work. And by “my people”, I mean the nurses, technicians, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and other doctors. None of us have ever seen or done ANYTHING like this before. This situation has caused the government, the scientific/medical community, the hospital administrators, and the public to throw stuff at us at a dizzying rate. On the fly, we have altered almost everything we do in terms of taking care of patients in our hospitals…and we are DOING it. And doing it WELL. That gives me hope.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Mauricio Heilbron, also lovingly referred to by his patients as “Dr. Mo”.

Mauricio Heilbron, MD, often referred to as “Dr. Mo,” is a Board Certified Surgeon who specializes in general, trauma and vascular surgery. Dr. Mo currently serves as Vice Chief of Staff at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California.

Born and raised in Long Beach, Dr. Mo has over 20 years in practice, serving patients all around Southern California. Able to discuss a wide range of medical matters, Dr. Mo has often appeared in print, television, and radio, including his regular staple on KROQ’s famous morning show Kevin and Bean, prior to the show’s cancellation in 2020.

Dr. Mo earned his medical degree at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, which was followed by his Residency in General Surgery at Maricopa Medical Center, and his Fellowship in Vascular Surgery at Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

Dr. Mo holds extensive knowledge on a variety of procedures and treatments, offering each of his patients a customized treatment plan targeted to meet their specific health needs.

One of his specialties being Vascular Surgery, Dr. Mo treats diseases of the blood vessels. Some diseases/conditions treated by Dr. Mo include abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid stenosis, varicose veins and circulatory blockages of the arms and legs.

Whether you need a complex treatment such as a hernia repair, or a simple Botox touch up, Dr. Mo is known for his incredible work with patients and prides himself on providing every patient with the superior level of thoughtful attention and care they deserve.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

As a young boy, like many other young boys, I just wanted to grow up and be like my dad. My father was a surgeon, who practiced here, in the same hospital, in Long Beach, California, for nearly fifty years.

In elementary school, kids are often asked what they want to be when they grow up…and their answers reflect both their era and their fanciful, innocent dreams. In the mid-’70s, those answers were things like astronauts and baseball players… But my answer was “doctor” because that vocation had that same magical quality to it.

By the time I reached junior high, and on into high school, it was clear I was a pretty good student. I tell my patients I was as smart back in fourth grade as am I now. That probably made me technically a “genius” back then, but I plateaued really early. If you were considered one of the better students in your class, medicine was one of the expected career paths you were supposed to take. I was fine with that. The puzzle pieces were coming together nicely.

In college, while taking my pre-med classes, I flirted with the idea of being a record producer, or being a musician…playing piano in one of those bars where everybody sings along having the best time EVER. I had a large record collection and started DJing little parties in the dorms, and thought maybe I could do something along those lines.

Then I became a Resident Assistant…an “RA”…and I realized I liked taking care of people. I was GOOD at taking care of people. I was good at handling crises both minor, like roommate squabbles, and major, like attempted (but thankfully unsuccessful) suicides. I learned how to counsel my slightly younger residents in issues ranging from classroom struggles to ethnic/cultural clashes; family problems, drugs and alcohol, Sexual needs and other conflicts.

My “kids” felt comfortable talking to me…and I felt they just needed someone to listen.

I liked being THAT guy. And “that guy” should probably be a doctor.

I was lucky enough to get into a good medical school in the Midwest…lucky in that not only did I get a great education, but that I spent four years in a place completely different than Southern California- different weather, different attitudes, different customs, different people.

It made me a better person, not just a smarter one.

My father suggested I look into all the various specialties during my time there…cardiology, anesthesiology, pediatrics, emergency room…but by the time my four years were up, I figured ut who I was. Not what I “wanted to be”, but who I was. Who I AM. I’m a surgeon. Just like my dad.

I was lucky (again) to get a five-year surgical residency in Phoenix, followed by a two-year vascular surgery fellowship that brought me back home to Southern California. Many of the surgeons who helped train me, were trained by my father.

I’ve been here nearly 25 years now. At the beginning of this year, I was elected to be the new Chief of Staff of my hospital. The same one in which my father worked his entire life.

I lost my dad back in 2018, but since we have the same name…I’m clearly a “junior” if that wasn’t pathologically obvious…it’s like he’s still here.

That gives me reassurance. Solace. Confidence.

With the unprecedented stress, the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on our country…on our health care system…on ME…knowing that THIS is where I’m supposed to be…that THIS is what I’m supposed to do…I’m a lucky guy.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As a card-carrying bibliophile, books have always been an integral part of my life.

Professionally, I have always loved textbooks. They make me feel smart.

Having these giant doorstops of information at my fingertips, helping me understand ideas I’m having a hard time grasping, giving me instruction on how to help my patients better…they makes me feel less “alone” in navigating these ever-changing, turbulent waters.

I look up a lot on the Internet, but there’s nothing like seeing a disease process or surgical procedure carefully laid out for you in a textbook.

NON-professionally, I own over 2,000 hardcovers.

Books line the walls of my office, and the struggle to keep them from taking over whole rooms in my home is real.

Fiction. Non-fiction. Paperback. Leather bound. Kindles. All good with me.

Treasures handed down to me from my father and grandfather.

Shakespeare to Steinbeck. Verne to Vonnegut.

Signed copies from such literary luminaries as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov, and more contemporary favorites like Brad Meltzer, James Ellroy, and Michael Connelly.

The autographs of several Presidents and a host of Mercury/Apollo astronauts can be found hidden on my shelves.

All inspiring. All necessary in my development as a human being.

But if I’m being honest, the book that made the MOST impact on me?

“Spider-Man” #102.

It was the first comic book I remember buying. I was only seven or eight years old…but it started a lifelong love affair with comic books. With Spider-Man.

I started buying them regularly…my PARENTS started buying them regularly…and they made sure I got the new ones every month.

Comics improved my ability to read. They made me love reading MORE.

Comics also taught me how to draw…to the point where medical illustration was at one time a potential career choice,. I’ve even had some of my artwork published in medical journals and textbooks.

But comics did something far more important.

With their unique ability to tell stories using both text and image, they showed me the benefits of morality, of decency, of loyalty.

How hard work eventually pays off.

How the difference between “good” and “evil” can be complicated, but trying to be “good” is always the best choice. And usually not the easiest.

A character like Spider-Man was demonstrating for me the same ideas my parents and my school teachers were instilling in me, but in a completely different language.

Peter Parker was an exceedingly good student, often picked on or made fun of, who wore glasses, and was kind of scrawny.

But had this ability…this super power…and he used it to do good.

That meant a WHOLE lot to THIS kid, just trying to negotiate, say, the complex nature of life inside a junior high school.

I saw me. He WAS me.

Fast forward to adulthood. Now, I get to help people by cutting them open and do some really cool things that not a lot of other people can do…so maybe that’s MY “super power.”

About a decade ago, I got called by a man who ran “The Hero Initiative”, a non-profit charitable organization that helps out old comic book creators in need.

Artists, writers, colorists, letterers.

People whose names mean little to the general population but mean THE WORLD to me.

Soon thereafter, I became their official Medical Consultant.

I have been able to give my time, knowledge and expertise to the very community that helped me get here. Whether it’s an office procedure/consultation, work on assisting in getting health care closer to their homes…or sometimes just a simple phone call, to answer some questions and give them some reassurance.

It’s an honor and privilege to be able to do this for them.

All this…from that one single, 25-cent issue all those years ago.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Reasons To Be Hopeful…or “Reasons That Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is (Hopefully) Not A Train”

1) My “people” keep coming to work. And by “my people”, I mean the nurses, technicians, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and other doctors. None of us have ever seen or done ANYTHING like this before. This situation has caused the government, the scientific/medical community, the hospital administrators, and the public to throw stuff at us at a dizzying rate. On the fly, we have altered almost everything we do in terms of taking care of patients in our hospitals…and we are DOING it. And doing it WELL. That gives me hope.

2) My patients. Both in my office and in the hospital. Most of them understand this chaotic “new world” has foisted upon them new hoops that need to be jumped through…delays, paperwork, additional testing…and they have handled it with grace. That gives me hope.

3) My secretary. She has been with me for over twenty years. We are a team. Just her and me. A small solo practice. A dinosaur in this age of huge, corporate medicine. She was fighting cancer…and BEAT it…just as the pandemic was hitting. She shows up every day. Taking care of our patients. With her calm, caring demeanor…her patience with my stressed (and often loquacious) patients…her organizational skills so vital and necessary now with everything else being so DISorganized…she provides innumerable breaths of fresh air and rays of sunshine to everyone who comes in contact with her. That gives me hope.

4) My wife. I just got married in October. When I’m not at work (and I’ve had to work every day but ONE since February 9th), I get to quarantine with the love of my life with whom I happen to still be in the “honeymoon” phase. My tension and anxiety in having to deal with the Corona Crisis melts away after I walk through the front door and see her smile. I am aware of how lucky I am, not having to go through this alone, and that once we are on the other side of this, we will have grown even closer BECAUSE of this. That gives me hope.

5) My son. He’s finishing his junior year of high school, in a way NONE of us could have ever imagined. Or even know HOW to do properly. I have seen him work through school-related uncertainties with teachers and assignments now all being done in almost an alien fashion, as well as those social issues that high school kids normally go through, but just not like THIS. As one of the most accomplished high school jazz musicians in Los Angeles, he has been unable to play or perform with any of his various local and regional school bands. I have seen him struggle to cope with all of this…and I see him DOING it. Connecting with his group of friends remotely…expressing himself musically, practicing his saxophone every evening for hours…that gives me hope.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It’s hard to support others, when you yourself are feeling anxious. So first things first.


Do the right thing. Wear a mask. Social distance. Wash your hands.

Be a model for others.

Do those things without pointing fingers at those who don’t.

Make it look easy. Make it look like it’s no big deal. It’s just a temporary thing.

I don’t have any specific advice on how to help others with THEIR anxiety, except listen. Just be there. Be present for them. Sometimes that’s all they need.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

1) Friends and family

2) Your primary care physician

3) Don’t be afraid of seeking psychological help…professionals who can help you navigate feelings you might have a hard time even defining.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Shoot. I don’t really have a life lesson quote or a motto. I just try to be a nice guy and do the right thing.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The most amount of good for the most amount of people?

Everybody can help. If everybody DOES help, then everybody GETS help.

From health care to education to politics to WHATEVER.

Just help.

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