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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wife of newsman who received brain injury in Iraq calls trauma nurses saints in talk at Alvernia

By Greta Cuyler
Reading Eagle
Reading Eagle: Ben Hasty
Lee Woodruff, the wife of ABC newsman Bob Woodruff, signs copies of her book Tuesday at Alvernia University. She spoke at a traumatic brain injury conference at the university about the important work nurses did after her husband was injured by a roadside bomb while on assignment in Iraq in January 2006.

Lee Woodruff and her four children were in Walt Disney World when she received the phone call.

It was Jan. 29, 2006.

Her husband, Bob Woodruff, an ABC News correspondent and co-anchor of "World News Tonight," had suffered a traumatic brain injury while embedded with the U.S. military north of Baghdad.

Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were riding in a convoy when a roadside bomb packed with rocks detonated.

Whisked away by helicopter to a field hospital about 20 miles away, Woodruff was in surgery 47 minutes after the blast. Doctors wearing body armor worked on his skull as mortars exploded nearby.

Woodruff was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors marked his hospital chart "expected," which meant he was expected to die.

But Lee Woodruff kept hoping for a miracle.

It came 36 days later, after her husband was transferred back to the United States, and on the same day she was planning to look at nursing homes near Washington for him.

At 3 a.m. he sat up in bed and said "Where is my life?"

It was the beginning of a long recovery.

Lee Woodruff was at Alvernia University on Tuesday, the keynote speaker during a conference for nurses on traumatic brain injuries. Her lecture was heard by a packed house of about 140 people.

She also spoke about her experiences and the books she's written about her life as part of the university's 2009 Literary Festival.

Woodruff said doctors used big words and told about the bad things she could expect with her husband's condition, but it was nurses who gave her hope and compassion.

"You are saints. You are miracle workers," she told the audience. "Even on the worst day when you've had a fight with your spouse and are grumpy, you make a difference to someone like me."

Bob Woodruff underwent extensive therapy and spent months regaining memory and relearning words. He suffers from aphasia, a condition that affects speech patterns, making it difficult to find the right words.

He said "Where is my life?" but meant "Where is my wife?" Lee told the audience.

Woodruff made his first return broadcast

on ABC in February 2007. He continues to work as a correspondent.

The Woodruffs wrote "In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing" to help put a face on traumatic brain injury among returning Iraq War veterans and others. Lee had also written another book, "Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress."

The couple also founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Web site in an effort to help wounded servicemen and their families get long-term care and help them reintegrate into their communities.

According to foundation, more than 320,000 of the 1.65 million U.S. service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 have suffered traumatic injuries.

"She really is a testament to hope," Alvernia nursing professor Kathleen Z. Wisser, said of Lee Woodruff.

The women met at a Pennsylvania State Nurses Association meeting last year.

Lee Woodruff had an opportunity to meet and thank the medics - ages 19 and 20 - who transported her husband from the blast site and helped saved his life.

They told her they were just doing their job. And that's what nurses say too.

"You were just doing your job, but what you do is exceptional," Woodruff said Tuesday. "What you do changes people's lives every day."

Contact Greta Cuyler: 610-371-5042 or
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