Nearly a decade to the day after Denise Sullivan tended to Ronald Reagan during the darkest night of his life, the nurse received a handwritten letter from the former president. "Your hand clasp was one of the most comforting things done for me during my stay," Reagan wrote, describing his gratitude toward a nurse who hovered by his bedside in the hours after surgeons removed a would-be assassin's bullet lodged just an inch from his heart. The letter, which came days after Reagan had been reintroduced to Sullivan at a ceremony naming the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital in the former president's honor, highlighted the instrumental and often overshadowed role that nurses and technicians played in saving the president's life after he was shot on March 30, 1981. It was during those tense hours ? while inserting IV lines, checking his vital signs and monitoring his breathing ? that a small cadre of nurses got an unvarnished glimpse of a president. And, as happens every day in hospitals across the country, it was the nurses who left a lasting impression on their patient.