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Dealing With the 'Grittier Surface' of Life

ABC Anchor Bob Woodruff and wife Lee share their trials and triumphs
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Lee Woodruff, wife of 22 years to former ABC anchor Bob Woodruff, summed up her husband’s loss of vision at the Resort at Squaw Creek on Feb. 17. Bob’s 2006 accident in Iraq, which caused a grievous brain injury, also left him with impaired vision at the top of his eyes. 'If you’re playing tennis with him, draw him to the net,' quipped Lee, who was co-keynote speaker, along with Bob, for Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation’s Queen of Hearts luncheon this year. More than 250 people attended.

The remark exemplifies how the Woodruffs have used humor to deal with this life-changing event. In early 2006, Bob had been reporting from Taji, Iraq, in his newly earned post as ABC’s 'World News Tonight' co-anchor. He’d had this position for all of 56 days when a roadside bomb detonated near the armored vehicle in which he was traveling. He spent 36 days in a coma and years recovering from the traumatic brain injury.

During recovery, Bob worked to re-learn the language he had known all his life. He remembered some words, like apple and banana, but others 'floated around [his] head, unable to crystallize.' He would say, 'I can’t read' instead of 'I can’t sleep,' and 'sleep puffers' instead of 'pajamas.'

It was a long and hard journey for a man whose livelihood was words and for a wife who had to balance her husband’s inchworm-pace recovery with the everyday demands of family life. But they rose to the occasion with dogged determination and tons of support from family and friends.

They chose to share their story with the world and co-wrote, 'In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love, Courage, and Healing,' which was published in 2007. It is a frank account of not only the life after the terrible accident, but also of dealing with the demands of broadcast journalism. The book is enlightening and devastating — a raw description of the road to recovery and a testament to the healing power of love.

In the afterword, Bob writes about how the experience brought he and his wife even closer: 'But that pain of life, the ‘grittier surface,’ as Lee calls it, is really a crucible. It’s a hot fire with the power to forge couples and families together. And in this way, I’ve gained even more than I already had.'

Bob is back at work reporting for ABC News shows on a variety of international and national stories with his 'Bob Woodruff Reports' unit. He has continued to cover stories that focus attention on the needs of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Lee is a contributing editor for ABC’s 'Good Morning America' and a prolific freelance writer. She recently published, 'Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress,' a book that tackles the universal topics of life.

The Woodruff family established the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury to raise money for members of the military who need cognitive rehabilitation and care following traumatic brain injuries while serving their country.
They responded to a few questions via email.

Moonshine Ink to Lee: What advice would you give others who want to support a relative or friend who suffers from a traumatic brain injury?
Lee Woodruff: The advice I would give to caregivers, or supporters, is to be patient.  In the beginning, the worst part — it is never going to be worse than that — is the fear and uncertainty. The human brain is capable of amazing things and it has an incredible ability to regenerate. You need to have patience and love and lots of support and you will slowly watch your loved one heal.

MI to Bob: What mental health resources were available to you after the accident?
Bob Woodruff: Mostly what I needed was speech therapy, which meant working with therapists at Sinai in New York. I had a couple of meetings with a psychologist. These are available to anyone, but how much is covered depends on your insurance.  

MI to Bob: What is your opinion on embedded reporting in war zones? Is it worth the risk?
BW: I have never given advice to journalists about whether or not to embed. I think it allows reporters to understand more about the war. I was embedded with the marines in Iraq for the invasion in 2003. I have covered Iraq five other times wandering around the country. Then I was hit that last time I embedded. They are all potentially dangerous, but it all depends on where you go.

MI: I hope that the family had a great day skiing today. What a gorgeous day for it!
BW: That was the best skiing weather I have ever seen. Thanks [to Tahoe] for allowing us in.

For info about the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury, visit bobwoodrufffamilyfund.org. For info about the Queen of Hearts Women’s Fund, contact Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation, (530) 587-1776. Comment on this story below.

 
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March 14, 2019