A banquet hall filled with around 500 people became as intimate as a family living room last week as Lee Woodruff described her newsman husband’s brush with death.
Woodruff, the keynote speaker at the Oct. 14 opening event of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Essex County Section, spoke of the struggles faced and overcome by her family after her husband, ABC television anchor Bob Woodruff, was wounded by a roadside explosive in Iraq in 2006.
“Ninety-five percent of marriages where there’s been a brain injury don’t survive,” she told the audience at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange.
Yet the Woodruffs have been lucky, she said. Despite having his skull shattered and his face raked by rocks, Bob has made an almost miraculous recovery and is back working as a journalist for ABC and as an anchor with the Discovery Channel.
“He’s not 100 percent, but he is a gift. He is my man — my soul mate,” said his wife of 21 years, her voice catching.
Woodruff, a writer for and contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America, said she felt at home at the NCJW event, in part because of the members’ commitment to doing good, partly because of their passion for combining eating and intellectualism, and in part “because — as my husband tells me — I always feel guilty about something.”
That comfort level was clear as Woodruff confided that at times she wondered if it would have been better to let her husband die. Through the 36 days he was in a coma and afterward, she feared not only the agonizing impairment he might face but also what it might do to her love for him, and to their four young children.
Their family, she added, is all the stronger and more compassionate because of the experience. But many of those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been as fortunate, and the Woodruffs have committed themselves to helping them.
Support for veterans
To that end, they have established the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation. The profits from In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing, the book Woodruff coauthored about her husband’s injury, are going to the foundation, which provides resources and support for injured service members and veterans, and their families.
She has written a second book, Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress, about her life as wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend, and is working on a third.
She made a point of emphasizing to the NCJW women that as tough as her family’s struggle was, they had the benefit of unlimited medical care. For those with just military or veterans’ benefits to handle the long-term care, she said, the nightmare can be infinitely worse, and — whatever one’s political views — they deserve better.
Woodruff referred to “two new friends” she had met just before giving her speech, sisters-in-law Dana Lathrop and Wendy Weinstein, whose father and father-in-law suffered a head injury while exercising and who said Woodruff was immediately empathetic.
A number of other people said that their families have been touched by similar struggles with brain injury. “Just at our table there were several people with relatives or friends who are going through that,” one woman said. “We could all relate to what she was describing.”