A President’s Doctor Becomes the Patient
Larry Mohr, M.D., former White House physician, returns to his home and work after undergoing spinal cord injury rehabilitation at Shepherd Center.
When the call came from the White House, Larry Mohr, M.D., initially turned the offer down.
A young field artillery officer in the U.S. Army, Dr. Mohr had just returned from a deployment and was looking forward to spending time with his family. He was also in the midst of establishing a research program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
But President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff wasn’t about to take no for an answer.
“The chief of staff told me, ‘What you want is not important. What we want you to do is what’s important,’” Dr. Mohr recalled. “He said President Reagan wants to talk to you tomorrow at 10 a.m. And when I got there, President Reagan said, ‘So I guess you’re going to come down and join us.’”
With that, the then-40-year-old’s life took a fascinating and unexpected turn. Overnight, Dr. Mohr became White House physician, charged with providing daily care for the most powerful man in the world – the president of the United States.
It was a job Dr. Mohr held for more than six years, working for both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also served President Bill Clinton during his transition into office.
During those years, Dr. Mohr had a front row seat to history. He traveled on Air Force One, attended dinners with Queen Elizabeth and met the Pope.
“It was a fascinating and remarkable experience,” Dr. Mohr recalls. “During the time I was there, a lot was going on in the world with respect to the Soviet Union dissolving and the democracies in central and eastern Europe and the Berlin wall coming down…. I got to see a lot of things firsthand.”
After leaving his role as White House physician, Dr. Mohr embarked on an equally illustrious career at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he served as a professor of medicine, ran a research program and also treated patients.
However, in 2016, Dr. Mohr’s life took yet another unexpected turn.
It was a summer evening in mid-June. Dr. Mohr had just returned home from a busy day at work and walked out onto the back deck of his home to relax. As he leaned against the deck’s railing, the structure collapsed, and Dr. Mohr plunged 16 feet to the ground, landing on his back.
When he tried to get up, Dr. Mohr could not move his legs. Instinctively, he started to scratching his thighs. There was no sensation.
“I couldn’t feel anything below my lower waist, so I knew at that point that I was paralyzed,” he says.
It’s the type of life-changing moment few people can comprehend. Dr. Mohr lay on the ground thinking about his various commitments and how he would keep them while being paralyzed.
Help arrived, and Dr. Mohr was transported to the Medical University of South Carolina. The 70-year-old physician spent nearly a month in the intensive care unit. Once his condition stabilized, Dr. Mohr was flown to Shepherd Center to begin rehabilitation in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.
As a physician, Dr. Mohr knew the difficult work a patient must do in the weeks and months after sustaining a spinal cord injury. At 70 years old, it can be even more challenging for the body.
“At his age, it’s difficult to sustain a spinal cord injury,” says Anna Elmers, M.D., a staff physiatrist at Shepherd Center and member of Dr. Mohr’s care team. “It’s always harder to bounce back when you’re older. He has made a tremendous amount of progress. I’m so proud of how far he has come.”
Dr. Mohr’s rehabilitation focused on strengthening his upper body, which grew weak during the time he spent in the ICU. The progress was slow going at first, but eventually Dr. Mohr excelled.
He learned to dress and bathe himself, transfer from a bed to a wheelchair and many other tasks that are part of daily life.
Through it all, Dr. Mohr maintained a remarkably positive attitude, Dr. Elmers recalls. He was never upset. He was never angry. Dr. Mohr even took the time to treat Shepherd Center staff to a fascinating lecture on his incredible role in history and on presidential health through the years.
“Everyone enjoyed taking care of him and working with him,” Dr. Elmers says. “He is just a lovely person and so down to earth. And this is a man who has contributed so much, not to just to his field of pulmonary medicine, but in general.”
Dr. Mohr has been recognized with such honors as a listing in Who’s Who in the World; Who’s Who in America; Who’s Who in Science and Engineering; and Outstanding People of the Twentieth Century. His military career is equally impressive. By the time he left the Army, Dr. Mohr had received a long list of medals, among them a decoration for valor on the battlefield and a medal for distinguished service. He is also the recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star for gallantry in action and two awards of the Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat. He also received the the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.
Having completed his rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, Dr. Mohr is now back home in Charleston, South Carolina. He has resumed working a few days each week, including driving himself back and forth to his office. He also continues to help students with research, volunteers and serves on various boards. And on occasion, he flies to medical conferences.
Dr. Mohr says his goal is to be as active as he can be, for as long as it is possible.
“Never give up. Just never give up,” he says, reflecting back on his injury and recovery. “Some days, predictably, are better than others. But just focus on having goals, and staying active as long as you can. Focus on enjoying the life you have. There are many good days ahead.”
Written by Mia Taylor
Archival photos courtesy of Larry Mohr, M.D.
Photo by Heather Thompson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.