- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Following a career in surgery that spanned four decades, Dr. Gino Mori decided to head back to medical school in 2013 to fill some gaps in his education.

After all, he completed his undergraduate education in science at Penn State University in 1953, the same year scientists James Watson and Francis Crick are credited with discovering the structure of DNA.

“You can imagine that basic science had changed quite a bit,” he said with a smile.

The 83-year-old physician completed about 40,000 surgeries in his 37½ years in medicine, but after retiring with his younger brother, fellow doctor and partner on Jan. 1, 2001, his unquenchable lifelong thirst for knowledge pushed him back to school. He has amassed nearly 200 credits in subjects like art, philosophy and history at the University of Scranton, and his alma maters of Keystone College and Penn State.

After The Commonwealth Medical College opened in Scranton, Mori joined as a volunteer faculty member and then jumped in himself, embedding with the incoming students in the class of 2017.

Going back to school meant a return to the past for a man who has always craved education.

He was born in Old Forge in 1932 to a socialist coal-mining father from Italy whom he calls an illegal immigrant. In the same breath, he notes that no human being is illegal.

Like the rest of his neighborhood, Italian was the language of the Mori family, which included the boy’s illiterate maternal grandparents, he said.

His father, Primo Mori, only ever completed a sixth-grade education, but taught himself English by devouring The New York Times, National Geographic and stacks of books, which filled the house. His intense curiosity of the world was passed on to his boy, who went on to study science at Penn State and medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

During medical school, he worked as a biochemist. At one point, he won a $600 grant to fund a study on a recently discovered chemical in the brain called serotonin.

“I thought it was going to be important,” he said of the hugely influential neurotransmitter that relays messages in the brain and affects most of an individual’s 40 million brain cells.

The man traded future research studies for a white doctor’s coat, graduating from medical school in 1958. He moved back to Northeast Pennsylvania and opened his Scranton practice in 1963. Eventually joined by his brother, a urologist, and others, the organization morphed into the prominent medical practice of Delta Medix.

While building himself into a skilled surgeon and raising a family, Mori’s nose still found its way back to books and learning. Toward the end of his career, he tinkered with laparoscopic surgery, in which tools and a camera are inserted into a body through small cuts rather than a more stressful, larger one. He even practiced on early models of the DaVinci Robot - a multi-armed device controlled by a surgeon at a console - to operate on chickens.

“I always kept up with the new innovation,” he said.

Retiring from medicine gave him more time to engage in his devotion for education. But sitting in with a fresh group of medical students, where the public is not allowed to audit, confused many.

“When we first started classes, I was astounded that the med school would admit such an old individual,” one of the students in the class, Paula Morzenti, now 33, said with a chuckle.

Another student, 27-year-old Nelson Femi Sofoluke, remembered seeing a “mysterious figure” during those first few whirlwind weeks of classes.

The classmates quickly learned about the surgeon in their midst, and said his great depth of knowledge of the body became an invaluable asset as they struggled through the first two years of medical school. In return, the students helped the old doc with his iPhone and MacBook laptop computer. He now expertly swipes through his smartphone screen like a teenager, and wishes the “Apple-Z” undo command on his computer could be applied to real life.

The technology has changed in medical school, and so has the demographics. Mori’s class of 175 included only one student who was not a white male. That certainly wasn’t the case in 2013.

The old doctor embraced that change as well. He was part of a study quartet that included a woman, Morzenti, and Sofoluke, who is black, that would talk medicine over lunch.

“He’s always gravitated to people who come from different backgrounds,” said Sofoluke, now a third-year medical student. “I think it all goes back to his affinity for learning.”

He left a lasting impression on the aspiring doctors, who said they were inspired by his never-ending quest for knowledge and passion for helping people.

“I just hope one day I can grow up and be a person like him,” said Morzenti, also a third-year student. “I will never forget that man.”

After completing the first two years with the TCMC class of 2017, Mori took the fall semester off to raise money for the medical scholarship that bears his wife’s and his name. In the spring, he plans to head back to class at the University of Scranton, where he is looking forward to auditing a literature and film course on macabre writers like Edgar Allen Poe called “Masters of Darkness.”

“I don’t believe in the afterlife,” he said, “so I try to get everything I can out of this life, and enjoy it.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1mob5KB

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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