When New York Times food and op-ed columnist Mark Bittman, who was scheduled to speak at the Town Hall South lecture series Tuesday, got called to London on assignment, Lee Woodruff was quick and eager to step in.
Woodruff, author, “CBS This Morning” contributing editor and wife of journalist Bob Woodruff, gave a message of hope through the story of her husband’s roadside bomb injury, which he sustained while covering the war in Iraq in 2006.
In her opening statement, she said, “Whether being hit by a bomb in a war, or going through the diagnosis of breast cancer, these are the things that connect us. Loss is loss. Fear is fear. Grief is grief.”
She told the story of the day Bob was hit by the bomb, from him getting on the tanker truck with the cameraman and reporting that the road was covered in IUDs – yes, he accidentally said IUDs. Just as he was laughing it off and starting to correct himself, a bomb, filled with rocks as opposed to more dangerous materials like glass or nails, was remotely detonated, with debris hitting him on the side of the face, leaving him with a critical brain injury.
The force of the blast was three times that of the strongest hurricane, tattooing small rocks into his face and lodging a larger one extremely close to his carotid artery. By some miracle, he survived the blast, and thanks to fast medical intervention, Bob has made a full recovery. Doctors on base were able to saw a hole in his skull to allow the brain to swell within 47 minutes of his injury.
“Human beings are hard-wired to survive,” Woodruff told the crowd at the Upper St. Clair High School auditorium. “I learned so much about the brain. Brains are incredible, they are regenerative.”
She also said Iraq was the first war where nothing was off-limits. “In previous wars, soldiers had the opportunity to pull back, to go base, go behind enemy lines.” She told of an Iraqi woman with a bomb strapped to her walking into a soldiers’ camp, where a card game was going on, and detonating herself. She also said fathers would strap bombs to their small children, and walk through the streets.
“When your mission is to get to heaven and be a martyr, you have nothing to lose,” Woodruff said.
Despite the long process of recovery, even having to relearn basic words, Woodruff said her husband never got upset or suffered from situational depression. “I asked him if he ever wondered, ‘Why me?’ and he responded, ‘Why not me?’”
The Woodruffs started the Bob Woodruff Foundation (ReMind.org) to assist wounded service members and their families with long-term care that they need, and to help them successfully reintegrate into their communities.
“I think God said that Bob needed to be the face of brain injuries. No one is talking about it, but he gets to say, ‘This is what a brain injury looks like.’”