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Law & Aorta

Posted on January 25, 2017

Lt. Joe Kenda, TV’s Homicide Hunter, is showing in the living room of John and Barbara Mohl’s Sevierville condominium, but neither is watching.

That’s because Mohl, a retired detec­tive with the New York Police Department, has plenty of true crime stories of his own. His were the kind of high-profile cas­es that might evoke a signature, “My, my, my” from Kenda himself.

But these days, John’s most recent case is a crime of the heart. He was 80 when clogged arteries choked off his heart in August 2015, sending him to the ER at LeConte Medical Center. From there, he was sent to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for a triple bypass and valve repair.

That, however, wasn’t the worst of it. Tests prior to his bypass surgery revealed a deadly secret – he also had an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), a balloon-like dila­tion of the largest blood vessel that leads from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body. It was almost three times its normal “garden hose” size. The great majority can be treated with a stent; however, Mohl’s aneurysm involved the kidney arteries and plaque-related blockag­es of his iliac and femoral arteries, requir­ing open repair.

If it ruptured, the odds were 90 per­cent he wouldn’t make it. Even without a rupture, repairing it would not be easy on him or his surgeon. Mohl would have to wait more than six months to heal from his open-heart surgery before his body could withstand the rigors of an open AAA, one of medicine’s more challenging and compli­cated surgeries.

Vascular surgeons  Richard Young, MD, and Mi­chael Kropilak, MD, met that challenge in an operation at Fort Sanders Regional. “We always double-scrub on open AAA surger­ies to increase the speed and quality of the repair,” said Dr. Young. “Every case is different, but an open AAA is a major operation for any patient.”

Through a large incision on Mohl’s abdo­men, Dr. Young clamped the aorta above and below the aneurysm to stop the blood flow. Then he replaced the diseased vessels with a polyester graft. After it was attached, they removed the clamps to restore blood flow and closed the incision.

Two weeks later, a happy-to-be-alive Mohl was discharged from the hospital. “There are not enough accolades for these two doctors,” he said. “They did a marvelous job. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be sitting here. They may say things that you think are blunt but they’re just telling you how it is, and that’s how it should be. In the medical profession, you can’t go sugar-coating things.”

Straight talk. It’s a quality Mohl learned to appreciate on some of New York’s toughest streets. He joined the NYPD and began patrolling in June 1956, 11 months before his marriage to Barbara. “He was 21 and looked 12,” she said. “People would throw garbage cans at him from the roof.”

In the ensuing years, Mohl worked un­dercover narcotics, burglary, major crimes and homicides in neighborhoods where surviv­al required street smarts. He later became part of the Major Crimes Investigative Unit, working to round up criminals claiming responsibility for high-profile crimes.  

“I was always too smart to get hurt. Se­riously,” said Mohl whose undercover col­leagues included Eddie Egan, who inspired the movie, The French Connection. “You have to be on the alert. It’s not a game out there. These people play for keeps. You just have to be a little smarter.”

These days, Mohl lives the quiet life of a “house husband” and fills his days alongside Barbara, vacuuming, washing dishes, going shopping and watching Joe Kenda on TV. He occasionally helps out at the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo, owned by his daughter and son-in-law.

He would like to see his 90th birthday and thanks to Drs. Young and Kropilak and Fort Sanders Regional, he might just do that.

“When you come from a big city like New York, you have a sense of superiority, that everything is better there,” said Mohl, who still speaks in his native “Brook­lynese.” “They may think ‘All the best hospitals are in New York.’ No, they’re not! They should try Fort Sanders someday.”


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