Daniel Ruge, White House physician, dies
September 6, 2005
DENVER ” Dr. Daniel Ruge, who made some of the key medical decisions in the hours after President Reagan was shot in 1981, has died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, his daughter said Tuesday. Ruge was 88.
Daniel August Ruge, a native of Murdock, Neb., was training as a neurosurgeon in Chicago when he met Dr. Loyal Davis, Nancy Reagan’s stepfather. The two later worked together at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where Ruge became chief of staff and chairman of neurosurgery.
He later became an expert in spinal cord injuries and was about to retire at 63 when Reagan ” following his father-in-law’s advice ” asked him to become chief White House physician. It was an unusual choice, since Ruge was older, a civilian and specialized in neurosurgery rather than internal or family medicine.
But he accepted and was standing near the president when John Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan in the chest outside a Washington hotel.
Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where Ruge insisted that the president be treated by the hospital’s trauma team, rather than taking charge or bringing in top surgeons from elsewhere. Ruge said he told the hospital staff to make the same medical decisions for the president that they would make for any patient.
Reagan returned to the White House less than two weeks later.
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Ruge later told The New York Times he erred in neglecting to invoke the 25th Amendment to transfer presidential powers to Vice President George Bush, at least temporarily. He said Reagan needed emergency surgery and general anesthesia, and “could not communicate with the people a president is supposed to communicate with.”
Ruge decided against a second term as White House physician, saying the job was “vastly overrated, boring and not medically challenging.” Reagan disclosed in 1994 he had Alzheimer’s disease, but Ruge said he had never detected any signs of Alzheimer’s in the president.
Ruge, a founding member of the American Spinal Cord Injury Association, is survived by his wife of 63 years, Greta Piper Ruge, two children, two sisters and two grandchildren.