Published Date Written by Noelle Barrett
Standing on the track around the football field on Steelton’s Cottage Hill, Alison Mohn embraces a family friend, Mitchell, rubbing his head. “That’s how Ryan’s hair felt,” Alison says, a pang of pain in her voice.
It’s been almost 10 years since her son, Ryan Lee Mohn, the star quarterback on Steelton-Highspire’s football team, died from injuries he sustained in a car accident, but as the months and years pass, the reminders never fade away.
Some friends and family close to him have inked their remembrances on themselves – tattoos of his jersey numbers, angel wings and crosses. And a number of strangers have a reminder, too, a piece of Ryan that they literally carry with them.
A month before Ryan died, he made a small choice that meant a big deal to many people he never met – he chose to be an organ donor the day he got his Pennsylvania driver’s license.
As a result, six people received vital organs – his lungs, pancreas, kidneys, liver and heart. Dozens more would benefit from his tissue, bone, skin and corneas. More than 100 lives were made better through Mohn’s gift.
It was Ryan Mohn’s choice that saved lives. Now it’s the compassion and courage by his family that continue to change many more. Every year since Ryan Mohn died, his family has held a walk in his memory, joining together the Steelton community, friends, family and strangers, while raising money for the Ryan Lee Mohn Memorial Foundation.
All of the money raised through the foundation is used for donations to charitable organizations, as well as a scholarship fund for Steel-High seniors who excel academically or athletically.
A life with promise
Ryan Mohn excelled at both academics and sports. He was a three-sport athlete who played a significant role on the football, baseball and basketball teams.
As the starting quarterback, he led his football team to playoffs and a championship. Mohn was a starting pitcher on the baseball team, and a big piece of his basketball team.
A junior in high school, he maintained good grades, had a lot of friends, and was kind to everyone he met.
“He had a way of getting what he wanted out of people,” Alison said, laughing. “All he had to do was crack a smile.”
Ryan spent a lot of time playing sports and video games with friends.
“He was very outgoing, always in good spirits no matter what was going on,” said friend Tramayne Hawthorne. “He always worked hard.”
On Jan. 31, 2004, Ryan was a passenger in a car on its way to the mall with two friends. The driver hit a tree, with most of the impact on Ryan’s side.
Emergency workers spent more than an hour in cold temperatures trying to get Mohn out of the car. There were a lot of physical injuries – a broken tibia, punctured lung and massive head trauma.
“He was in the hospital on life support for a week,” recalled his mother. “They were trying to get his brain pressure to get down.”
Ryan was alive, and it hadn’t hit the family what would happen next.
“I remember my first thoughts were he had a broken leg, and how that would [affect him],” said Alison. “Either I didn’t understand or I didn’t want to believe the severity.”
After a week, the hospital did tests, showing devastating results – Ryan was considered legally brain dead.
“It went from [thoughts of] is he going to be able to play sports again to he is going to die,” Alison said.
Eventually, his parents were approached about donating his organs.
But it wasn’t a choice for them. Ryan had already made that choice.
Losing Ryan was a blow to not only his family but the entire Steel-High community.
“It’s like everybody’s hearts were broken,” said Kyle Hrestak, a friend.
Nearly a decade later, the loss is still felt, and friends and family continue to come together. Through the walk, they see how much Ryan affected the lives of others, with the presence of the organ recipients and their families.
Finding solace in tragedy
His parents and sister, Cristen, lost a huge part of their family, but also added to their family. Some of the recipients of Ryan’s organs remain in close contact with the Mohns and attend the walk in Steelton every year.
On Saturday, Aug. 10, all four of the organ recipients the Mohns have met were in attendance for the walk.
For Samarth Mehta, now a college student, the gift of a kidney meant the end to dialysis and another chance at life.
“It really overwhelms me,” said Sudha Mehta, Samarth’s mother. “I feel too connected with [the Mohn family]. I think of Ryan – because of him, I have my son today.”
Samarth is grateful not only for the chance at a second life, but for the Mohns, who he considers a second family.
“I don’t tell anybody about the problems I go through, but my family and them [the Mohn family],” Samarth said.
“I was given birth by my mom, and had a rebirth because of Ryan. He gave me my second chance at life.”
Mohamed Tanamly was near death, battling liver cancer. With just a couple months to live on a long waiting list for a liver transplant, he finally received the call he could only hope and pray for.
“I was singing, and my wife kept wondering if I went crazy,” Tanamly said, laughing.
As soon as he could, Tanamly wanted to meet the Mohns.
“It was very emotional. I couldn’t stop crying,” he recalled. “It was pretty hard for me. I have a son that was Ryan’s age, so it was very, very emotional.”
Through Tanamly, Mohn’s story has spread across continents. Last year, Tanamly couldn’t attend the walk because he was in South Africa on a mission to help alleviate AIDS and other health issues. So instead, he brought the walk to South Africa, gathering a group of people together to walk at the same time the 9th annual Ryan Lee Mohn Walk was held in Steelton.
The bond the Mohns have made through the recipients and their families is comforting.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t as adamant about the gift of life, until I met the recipients,” said Ron Mohn, Ryan’s father. “It’s unbelievable. It hits me in the heart.”
And while it helps, nothing can fully take away the pain of Ryan’s death.
“That was my buddy,” said Ron. “He was a heck of an athlete and a heck of a student.”
There is so much the family misses, especially his smile.
“He’s missed dearly, and that’s the hardest part of this,” said Ron. “We just try to keep his name going.”
Noelle Barrett: 717-944-4628, or