Utah doctor who helped Nancy after assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan speaks

Posted at 9:33 PM, Mar 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-06 23:33:40-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- H. Craig Harmon is currently a doctor in Salt Lake City, but in 1981 he was a medical student at George Washington University Hospital who tended to Nancy Reagan when her husband was wounded in an assassination attempt.

Harmon witnessed Reagan stumble out of a limousine at an emergency hospital entrance, and, moments later, Nancy was at the president's side. As news of the former First Lady’s death at age 94 was announced, Harmon spoke with FOX 13 to recount those memories.

The assassination attempt occurred March 30, 1981 when Reagan and three others were shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. while attending an event at the Washington D.C. Hilton. All who were wounded in the shooting survived.

A short time after shots were fired, a third-year medical student at Washington University Hospital would witness something that sounds like a scene from a movie.

“All these sirens are screaming and the limousine pulls up to the emergency room door,” Harmon said. “I happened to be right there and walked out and see the door open, and there's President Reagan. He starts to climb out of the limousine and then partially collapses.”

His blood pressure was about 70 over 40, and while experienced doctors tended to the president, Harmon tended to the president's wife—who arrived minutes later.

“Nancy is outside the operating suite and is just standing right next to me, and she was actually very, obviously very concerned, but also very... more composed than I would have thought,” he said.

Harmon said he witnessed firsthand the "grace under pressure" persona Nancy was known for, keeping her cool as part of a plan laid out by White House staff

“They tried to minimize and downplay this as just a mild thing, whereas he was really on the verge of death,” Harmon said.

Reagan was struck by a bullet that ricocheted off of a limousine, and, according to Harmon, the president didn't initially realize he had been shot--attributing the pain he experienced to being tackled by security staff.

It wasn't until Reagan began to cough up blood that they realized something was seriously wrong and the president was bleeding internally.

"It entered into his armpit, and made a very small entrance wound to the point it was not bleeding [externally] at all," Harmon said. "Then it went in and severed the pulmonary artery."

Harmon said he interacted more with Nancy during the following 11 days. He has some mementos from that time to this day.

“These are White House jelly beans, and the presidential cup that was given to me by the presidential staff,” he said.

But, he said, more important are his personal memories of a popular president and the  woman who looked after him both publicly and privately

“I had a very positive impression of Nancy Reagan,” Harmon said. “’Just say no' was certainly an important part of her message, but in the end I think she'll be viewed as the supporting cast, the best supporting actress in a leading role. She would have to be viewed as someone who really helped a great man be greater.”

Harmon said he served as a personal guide of sorts to Nancy Reagan during that time, particularly on the day of the shooting. He said as he ushered her in and out of hospital rooms, she made time to talk with him and thank him for his assistance, in spite of all that must have been on her mind.