By Kate Elizabeth Queram
News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.
On Jan. 28, 2006, Lee Woodruff was a mother of four children, a freelance writer and the wife of Bob Woodruff, the recently appointed co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight.”
She had to-do lists. She had deadlines. She had schedules, assignments, meetings and plans.
A day later, an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq, seriously injuring Woodruff’s husband, who was there on assignment.
And just like that, her life fell apart.
“I was probably as good at juggling priorities as most women with four kids and a job and a husband on the road are,” said Woodruff, who headlines today’s sold-out Women to Women Celebration Luncheon at the Joseph S. Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
“But I was a very type-A, organized person. And as a woman, and a working, lots-of-hats-wearing mom, I just had to learn to live in the moment, which is not my nature.
“But we had no other choice.”
Bob Woodruff, diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, was kept in a medically induced coma for five weeks to allow his brain to heal.
During that time, doctors began preparing Lee for the possibility that her husband could require long-term care. That he might wake up with severe cognitive limitations. Or that he might not wake up at all.
But he did wake up. And began to recuperate.
“It’s a long, slow heal,” Woodruff said. “It’s not like a broken bone. And that process taught us to understand what you have, and don’t have, control over.”
Nearly a decade later, her husband is the same person she married. His personality is intact. His humor is the same.
Occasionally, he suffers from aphasia — an inability to find words. If you don’t know him well, you might not notice.
“A lot of marriages don’t survive a traumatic brain injury because people’s personalities change,” Woodruff said. “For whatever reason, Bob’s has not. He’s the same guy with the same intelligence. He’s really amazing.”
Because her husband worked for a major news network, his medical bills were covered throughout his recovery process. The family didn’t have to worry about their benefits running out, but the Woodruffs knew that military members with similar injuries returning from the same part of the world weren’t usually as fortunate.
So the family decided to help, creating the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which funds existing support organizations in communities where veterans and their families live and work.
“Essentially, we come in where the government stops,” Woodruff said. “We’ll support an organization with a grant, but we stay involved. We look at the landscape and see which organizations are being the most effective, which ones are helping. There are more than 46,000 veterans’ charities and they aren’t all created equally.”
Her overall message, Woodruff said, is one of resilience and strength, of understanding that we’re capable of more than we think.
“Everybody will have something happen,” she said. “And we’ll all get through it.”