Woodruff Speaks of Resilience, Recovery

Journalist Bob Woodruff speaks to cadets during academic convocation in Cocke Hall.

Cadets look on as Bob Woodruff delivers the academic convocation address today in Cameron Hall.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

LEXINGTON, Va., Sept. 6, 2017—Television journalist and traumatic brain injury survivor Bob Woodruff chronicled his comeback and emphasized the healing power of family and friends during remarks given at Virginia Military Institute’s academic convocation earlier today.

Woodruff had recently been named as anchor of ABC News’ evening broadcast World News Tonight when he traveled to Iraq to report on the war there. He was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division and traveling in a group of armored vehicles near Taji, Iraq, on Jan. 29, 2006, when the vehicle in which he was riding hit an improvised explosive device (IED), injuring both Woodruff and his camera man, Doug Vogt.

The bomb’s impact left Woodruff with permanent vision loss in one eye and fractured his skull. He later had to have a 16-centimeter portion of his skull removed due to brain swelling and spent 36 days in a medically induced coma. Today, Woodruff still suffers from expressive aphasia, which is the inability to recall words.

Woodruff told his audience of cadets, faculty, staff, and community members that he came out of the coma to find himself in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland—but he had no idea where he was.

“I couldn’t name the names any of the states in our country,” he remarked. “I couldn’t name the names of any of the countries in the world, including ours. I couldn’t remember the names of any of my three brothers. I called them all by my oldest brother’s name, Dave.”

Before he awoke from the coma, Woodruff had been in such a dire condition that his family was preparing for a lifetime of permanent, severe disability. “My wife had been looking for a nursing home to put me in, because she had no idea if I would walk again or speak again,” he explained.

Slowly, though, Woodruff began to regain the skills he’d lost, although not all of them would come back fully. “To this day, I have a pretty bad loss of memory,” he stated.

Thirteen months after the injury, Woodruff returned to ABC with a documentary, “To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports,” which was honored with the prestigious Peabody Award in 2008. In addition, Woodruff has written a memoir, In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing.

In his remarks at VMI, Woodruff was quick to credit his family, including his wife, Lee, and their four children, for the degree of recovery he has been able to achieve. “The brain is remarkable,” he said. “If you have love around you, the brain does get better.”

With that sentiment in mind, Woodruff urged the cadets in the audience to cherish and nurture their friendships.

“Whatever issues you may have, whatever troubles you may have, there’s nothing more powerful than having that group of friends at your back,” he stated.

It was while he was a patient at Bethesda Naval Hospital that Woodruff and his family discovered a need for more support for veterans of the recent wars. After learning of a hospitalized Marine whose family couldn’t afford to travel from Florida for a visit, Bob and Lee Woodruff began the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on assisting the country’s post-9/11 injured veterans and their families.

To date, the Foundation has raised more than $45 million and has helped more than 2.5 million veterans and family members. Woodruff described seeing the good that the Foundation has done as “the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Today, Woodruff continues to work for ABC News, and even keeps an apartment in Beijing, China, where he began his journalism career during the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989. But as he travels and reports, Woodruff does so with the awareness that the exceptional degree of recovery he’s achieved is not something to be taken for granted.

“How miraculous it is that I’m able to be here,” he noted. “I’m blessed and I’m lucky to be here.”

-Mary Price


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