BOSTON (CBS) – Lee Woodruff, the wife of ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff, was in the Boston area last fall. She delivered a lecture and signed books afterwards at the Weston library this past November. Lee and Bob Woodruff have written a book called “In An Instant.” It details the turn their lives have taken in the wake of Bob’s traumatic brain injury, which he suffered while on assignment in Iraq in January of 2006.
One month earlier, Bob Woodruff had been named a co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. “Bob’s skull was shattered by the blast and that part of Bob’s brain as a right-handed person was the speech and language part of his brain, so I was basically told that he probably was not going to be able to communicate,” Lee Woodruff told her audience.
She added, “One of the most amazing things was when he finally woke up after the 36th day at three o’clock in the morning, he said,’ Where’s my life?’
“Well,” she laughed, “He meant wife, but said life.”
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She also recalled that her husband, who had been able to converse in Mandarin Chinese and French, was doing both. “Bob’s brain, even in his completely scrambled place, was trying to find compensatory ways to communicate.”
Bob Woodruff is currently back at work at ABC News. As a more recent traumatic brain injury survivor, I was eager to speak with him. I asked him how he’s doing now.
“I still have difficulty with some memory,” he told me. “I have difficulties with names and the orders of letters. I think what happens with aphasia, which is exactly what you and I have, is that we sometimes don’t have the same kind of skill in remembering particular words. My vocabulary number is down. But I think the good thing is that I certainly understand everything that I’m hearing and what I want to say. It’s just finding little words here and there.”
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I asked Bob about his biggest triumph. He didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Coming back to work was a huge one,” he said. “There are so many people who thought there was no chance in hell that I could become a journalist again, given how bad it was in the beginning. I think what happens is you just start out and you’re just so happy to be alive, and you’re surrounded by your family and your friends, and then suddenly you’re realizing that life is not going to be exactly the way it was before, and then you finally realize that there are some things about us that is better than it was before, and there is a great future and it’s that moment that is the victory that you’re talking about. That is the moment when you realize there is a comeback coming.”
Since his return to work, Bob Woodruff has also formed the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a national non-profit which helps injured service members, veterans and their families. The foundation has raised more than $11 million to date.
While I was able to speak for a short time with Bob and Lee Woodruff, I spent considerably more time with fellow traumatic brain injury (TBI) clients at Community Rehab Care in Medford.
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I met Amanda Lawton at CRC. She is 33 years old, originally from Marblehead and most recently had been a labor and delivery nurse in Anchorage, Alaska. She suffered a traumatic brain injury last April, when her vehicle was struck by almost ten tons of falling ice. “I was going to get butter to make cookies. I always tell people it flattened me and the car,” she recalled. “I had five brain surgeries, but I’m up walking and talking, so I’m a lucky lady.”
Both Amanda and I agreed that the camaraderie at therapy helped. “I really like knowing that somebody’s going through the same thing I am,” she said. “It’s nice to know that somebody’s in the boat with me and that I’m not the only person that’s having to get through it, and that weird things happen to other people, too.”
Amanda’s dad, Dick Auffrey of Marblehead, can’t say enough about the therapy his daughter received. “It has just been remarkable,” he said, adding that there is one change he sees in Amanda’s personality. “She’s got a better sense of humor than she’s ever had, and she thinks she’s funnier,” he chuckled.
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Another fellow TBI client was Steve Burton of Revere.
Steve is 31 years old and fell two floors in a work-related accident in 2006. His biggest challenges are organizing his thoughts and coping with noisy places. “The anxiety will build up and I can’t go where I need to go without running into someone,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s just the noise. It becomes very nerve-racking for me.”
He points to walking as his biggest success, because his doctors had told him he would never walk again.
When people ask me about my biggest success, I tell them it was being pronounced ‘fit to drive’ again. I needed to take a Registry of Motor Vehicles Medical Competency Road Test for that to occur. I’ll have more on that stomach clenching ordeal in our next post.