Savannah doctor recalls day he helped President Reagan in emergency room

ByBlair Caldwell|March 30, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT - Updated March 30 at 6:29 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a side of the story you likely haven’t heard. What happened inside the Emergency Room when President Ronald Reagan was shot on this day 40 years ago.

One of the few people to know the story is here in Savannah.

Dr. Randy Bottner is a cardiologist at Memorial Health, but he says his most memorable day in medicine happened 40 years ago as a resident. It was his very first day in the Emergency Room at George Washington University Hospital.

“She picks up the phone, she turns bright red, she doesn’t say anything, she puts the phone back down and she says the President’s motorcade is coming. We’ve got three gunshot wounds. There was this moment of just stunned, disbelief,” said Dr. Randy Bottner, Chief of Cardiology at Memorial Health.

As panic erupted at the scene of the shooting, doctors and nurses at the ER were busy assembling a trauma team and preparing for the President. Dr. Bottner was told to help divert other patients away from the ER when a new one entered.

“We stepped on the magnetic mat that opened the doors into us and there, standing three feet in front of us, was President Reagan.”

He was supported by secret service agents carrying him, in bad shape from an unknown injury at the time.

“He looked at us he was ashen, he was as white as a sheet and he was bent forward just a little bit and this is the part where my wife says I always dramatize it, but I was there and this is how it happened. He looked up at us and he said ‘I can’t breathe’ and he started to collapse.”

Dr. Bottner says he and other medical students and a nurse helped catch him and carry him to a trauma room for treatment. He says as a trauma team worked to stabilize the president, the ER filled quickly with onlookers and that’s when an agent took action.

“Agent Wanko climbed up on the desk in the center of the island and he was holding that Uzi machine gun and he said, ‘if you don’t belong here and you don’t get the, out of here there’s going to be hell to pay and I’m sitting here, actually standing there looking up at that machine gun and looking at him saying that wondering if I belong there as a 4th year medical student.”

He says he stayed and served as a “go-for” transporting the president’s x-rays and more. He watched as doctors placed a chest tube which released a large portion of President Reagans blood supply and as the first lady came to see her husband. While he admits he did little for treatment, he watched as doctors took him to surgery, removed the bullet from his lung and got him to recovery.

“There were a lot of circumstances that were lucky that President Reagan survived this attempt on his life.”

Dr. Bottner says now 40 years later his experience never changed his career trajectory, but it was a lesson in how to stay calm and in control through a crisis. As Chief of Cardiology at Memorial, he says there have been many memorable moments on the job, but this is one he’ll never forget.

“Hardly anyone has an experience like this where you know a historical event unfolds within minutes and you are a witness to it, you’re there. You’re a tiny, little part of it, but you’re there to observe the whole thing.”

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Photo: WTOC

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