“I don’t remember anything about being hit,” said Bob Woodruff, war correspondent for ABC news and former anchor of World News Tonight. “It was like I was floating around.”
Woodruff and his wife, Lee, spoke Monday night following a private reception in Burt Kahn Court to a crowd of more than 500 Quinnipiac students, faculty staff and local residents who had been lined up just outside the door an hour before it began.
In a candid interview moderated by David Donnelly, dean of the School of Communications, and William McLaughlin, an associate professor of communications who also reported on foreign affairs for CBS, the couple related the events of the past year that changed their lives forever.
Woodruff sustained a traumatic brain injury to the left side of his head while reporting in Taji, Iraq when he was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that forced doctors to remove parts of his skull so that his brain could swell safely. The incident happened just 27 days after he was appointed anchor for World News Tonight on ABC.
“A good foreign correspondent doesn’t tell his wife exactly what he’s doing,” Lee said. “I thought he was getting some sleep that day.”
Woodruff has since recovered considerably, against overwhelming odds, regaining most of his physical and speech capabilities (he spoke three languages before the accident) and he and Lee recently co-authored the book, “In an Instant,” which documents their journey as a couple before and after the blast.
A brief clip from the couple’s documentary, “To Iraq and Back,” that appeared recently on ABC was shown to the crowd during which Woodruff revisits the hospital where he lay unconscious for 36 days. Lee, who was petite, quick-witted and poised, inserted some humor into the somber moment.
“The young nurse in the video was nicknamed ‘Hot Allison’ by Bob’s brothers while he was in the hospital,” Lee said. “I can’t help but think that’s part of the reason Bob got well so fast.”
Woodruff said that after his injury he had difficulty recalling even the most basic facts.
“I couldn’t remember the names of things,” he said. “I didn’t know [the name] of a single state in this country. I couldn’t even remember a simple thing like ‘Bush.'”
Lee said that he often made mistakes in his everyday speech that the family came to call “Bob Classics.” For instance, while expressing his frustration at the family’s cell phone service provider, Verizon, Woodruff said, “Where is that Viagra man!”
Donnelly asked about how they held their marriage together considering that statistics show the divorce rates of war correspondents and individuals with traumatic brain injuries are higher than most.
“Are you saying we have a double wammy, Dave?” Lee asked with a smile.
She said that while it is difficult at times, they hold their marriage together with a “big sense of humor.”
Woodruff was trained as a lawyer at the University of Michigan and taught American law in China before embarking on a career as a broadcast journalist. He feels that journalists today are not serving the public’s need to know as well as they could when it comes to covering foreign affairs.
“There used to be three main networks: ABC, CBS and NBC,” he said. “They weren’t concerned about making a profit because people had to watch them, there was nothing else.” He went on to say that today people are getting their information from other sources like the Internet, but he’d like to see a return to broadcast. “I’m pushing hard for that,” he said.
Looking ahead, Woodruff hopes to return to the world of reporting as soon as he is able. “There’s going to be a day when I go abroad again,” he said. For now, he and his wife are focusing on promoting their book and their new charitable endeavor, the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, which aids veterans who return from war with traumatic brain injuries.
At the event’s conclusion, several audience members stood to ask questions, express their gratitude and relate personal stories about dealing with similar brain injuries.
In response, Lee had one piece of advice: “It gets better,” she said. “Just hang in there.”
The speakers were the first in the Dean’s distinguished speaker series sponsored by the School of Communications.