Bob Woodruff’s Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery

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Every so often, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff feels a rock “emerge” from his face “like a zit,” he says. But it’s not a pimple; it’s a not-so-subtle reminder of what he has been through over the past four years.

On Jan. 29, 2006, a mere 27 days after he was tapped to succeed Peter Jennings as the co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight, Woodruff was nearly killed when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle while on assignment near Taji, Iraq.

The details of the attack are still murky, but an improvised explosive device (IED) waylaid his convoy. Woodruff was wearing body armor and was in a tank, but his head, neck, and shoulders were exposed during the blast. The blast knocked Woodruff unconscious as rocks and metal pierced his face, jaw, and neck. Woodruff’s cameraman, Doug Vogt, and an Iraqi soldier were also hurt.

“How I survived, we still don’t know to this day,” Woodruff said in a speech this month in San Diego at the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery’s annual meeting. The audience included the surgeon who rebuilt his face after the attack.

Road to Recovery

Right after the blast, no one thought Woodruff would survive. A medic told his wife, Lee, that a piece of paper that read “expected” was pinned to his chest. “I was expected to die,” Woodruff says. When he survived, no one thought he would be able to work again — especially as a broadcast journalist.

But Woodruff returned to the air 13 months after getting injured, telling his story in a documentary called To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports. “I was nervous my first time back in front of the camera, and people were astounded that I was back at all,” Woodruff says.

The journey back was not easy. Immediately after the attack, Woodruff was placed in a medically induced aphasia, the inability to find words. Aphasia is caused by damage to one or more eyes, and he has lost 30% of his hearing in one ear and 10% in the other ear.

Woodruff’s Journey

Despite his injuries, Woodruff counts his blessings. The rocks narrowly missed the major brain injuries – the signature injury of the Iraq war. He started the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission of providing resources and support for injured service members, veterans, and their families.

It is estimated that more than 320,000 U.S. service members have sustained traumatic brain injuries, according to the Foundation’s web site.

Soldiers’ bodies are often better protected than in bygone wars. Their protective gear may save their lives, but it doesn’t rule out posttraumatic stress disorder, divorce, homelessness, hearing loss.

“Traumatic brain injuries have never gotten this much attention,” Woodruff says. And he has a message for people with traumatic brain injuries: “There is hope and there is recovery.”