How much is a drop of presidential blood worth?
An on-line auction site is hoping to find out by selling a vial that it claims was used to draw President Ronald Reagan’s blood while he was recovering from the gunshot wound that nearly killed him in 1981. To top it off, the auction site says, “dried blood residue” is clearly visible inside the vial.
The auction drew the immediate scorn of doctors who treated the president, and the director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation threatened legal action to stop the sale, calling the auction a “craven act.”
“Any individual, including a President of the United States, should feel confident that once they enter into the care of a medical system their privacy and rights are held inviolable,” said John Heubusch, executive director of the foundation.
So far, the auction has garnered bids that have topped about $8,000 and ends Thursday. The site, PFC Auctions, is based on the island of Guernsey, an autonomous British protectorate, in the English Channel.
PFC says the vial is being sold on behalf of the son of a deceased woman who worked at a laboratory in Columbia that tested Reagan’s blood, which had been drawn while he was treated at George Washington University Hospital.
The lab worker was permitted to keep the vial and its accompanying paperwork by a supervisor at Bio-Science Laboratories, the son wrote in a statement posted on the auction site. The mother kept the vial until her death in 2010. The unidentified man said he contacted the “Ronald Reagan National Library” – he meant the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library – in Simi Valley, Calif., and was told that the National Archives would accept the vial but not pay for it. “Reagan when he was my Commander in Chief when I was in the ARMY from ’87-’91 and that I was a real fan of Reaganomics and felt that Pres. Reagan himself would rather see me sell it rather than donating it,” the man wrote on the PFC website.
Reagan was shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, just 70 days into his first term. Badly wounded, the president lost more than half of his blood that day. If not for quick-acting Secret Service agents and hospital personnel, Reagan would have died. A surgeon eventually plucked the bullet just an inch from the president’s heart.
Doctors who treated Reagan said they are not surprised that such an item would be auctioned off because physicians, nurses and technicians kept a number of mementos of Reagan’s treatment and his 13-day stay at GW. One surgeon hung onto the president’s stitches, and nurses slipped away with copies of lab and medical reports. FBI agents spent weeks fruitlessly combing the hospital for Reagan’s prized “Golden Bear” cufflinks, which had vanished when his clothes were cut from him in the emergency room. The cufflink was never found, and some medical personnel believe it left the hospital in someone’s pocket.
When Dr. David Gens, a chief GW resident in 1981, removed one of Reagan’s catheters, he was told by a Secret Service agent that the medical device had to be taken to the White House and destroyed. “Otherwise, the agent said somebody would try to auction it for money,” said Gens, now a trauma surgeon at the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.
Dr. Joseph Giordano, who was head of the GW trauma team in 1981 and cared for Reagan, said the auction “is outrageous.”
“You don’t go selling people’s specimens or bodily fluids,” said Giordano. “You have no permission to do that. It’s unethical.”
Craig Shirley, who worked on two Reagan campaigns and has authored two books about Reagan, said that the vial belonged to Reagan’s wife, Nancy. “It strikes me that somebody’s personal privacy has been violated and some law has been broken,” he said.
Short of a DNA test of the residue inside the vial, it may be impossible to know if the artifact is legitimate. But it is labeled with the same patient identification number as other medical records that I reviewed in reporting my book — Rawhide Down — about the assassination attempt.
However, at least one of those medical records turned out to be a forgery. In reporting the book, I obtained an anesthesia record that I later determined was a fake. After tracking down the original record, I discovered that both documents contained the same — and accurate — data. But the forgery was written in neater handwriting. It seems that nurses are notoriously sloppy when taking notes in operating rooms, and nurses and doctors told me they believe someone recreated a neater record to take home as a souvenir.