Step away from your phones, computers and TVs. Read a book, listen to music, better yet…PLAY an instrument. Heck…learn to play an instrument. Be creative, not destructive.
As part of our series about “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trauma Surgeon and Vice Chief of Staff at St. Mary’s Medical Center, Dr. Mauricio Heilbron.
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 out 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?
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
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is when, by election or inheritance or happenstance, one assumes a position where a certain population depends on your decision making to proceed along a certain path, or in a certain direction, or towards a common goal.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I think the COVID crisis reflects and reveals a number of wounds, in our critically injured country.
Being a general, trauma and vascular surgeon, it resonates for those obvious reasons bbeing the father of a 17-year old teen, starting his senior year in high school, unable to perform in his all-star jazz band, it resonates for completely different reasons.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Poor leadership. Period. Good leaders help us through bad times. The best leaders get us through the worst times.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
For months, I have been subjected to the taunting of a certain subset of Americans, just because I’m wearing a mask… Or wearing (clean) scrubs.
They call me a “sheep” or “sheeple.” They denigrate my profession, my calling. They tell me I’m part of a conspiracy and that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
All because a leader tells them this…allows them this manner of discourse…condones this vocabulary. I’m just trying to help people and to do my job, to keep people healthy and even ALIVE. When I try to explain things, answer their questions, provide perspective…which they have ASKED for, I am subject to their derision, their taunts and their insults.
I get this everywhere… On TV, on Facebook, even at my coffee shop.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1) The nicest thing you can do to anyone else right now, is wear a mask. It says…it SHOULD say…I’m wearing this because I don’t want YOU to get sick.
2) Vote. For obvious reasons. It allows your personal expression of where you want this country to go. Like I say, you can’t bitch if you don’t vote.
3) Realize that it’s OK to be wrong. The key is to educate yourself in how to educate yourself. Googling doesn’t count.
4) It’s OK to be mad at the world. It’s not OK to be mad at people in general.
5) Step away from your phones, computers and TVs. Read a book, listen to music, better yet…PLAY an instrument. Heck…learn to play an instrument. Be creative, not destructive.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Find groups that are apolitical, find people that are fans of the same things you are, take a brain break.
When you find you have more in common with people, the less you “hate” them for their political views and judgements. Also, when your “peaceful place”, wherever that is, is invaded by people who just have to ruin things by injecting their inflammatory opinions…agree to “let them go.”
There are other places for those sorts of discussions. I think sometimes it feels like it is everywhere (it kinda is) but we need to force ourselves to get a bit of separation, if only for a short time.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I’m optimistic about an “eventual” resolution…but I’m not holding my breath. The combination of our nation’s older evils and problems, combined with new technologies and torrents of information and commentary, is proving to be as insidious a disease as COVID.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or
I honestly think the young people, people like my son, are doing the right thing. They get it. We just need to not screw up the planet before they save it for us.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!