His Fifth Trip to Iraq
When ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq, his wife held on to faith and hope that he would fully recover.
It was Bob's fifth trip to Iraq, his first since becoming coanchor of ABC World News Tonight, and when I kissed him goodbye that morning last year, I was thinking about the exercise class I wanted to go to later that day and the logistics of taking our four kids to Disney World.
Obviously a national news anchor like Bob travels a lot, so I was used to handling things by myself. I didn't usually worry about him. In fact, this time I didn't really want to think of the danger he was facing at all. Better to block it all out of my mind.
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Sunday morning, January 29, the call woke me up at the hotel in Disney World. It was the president of ABC News. "Lee, Bob has been wounded in Iraq," he said, choosing his words carefully. "He's alive but he may have taken shrapnel to the brain."
I had to get out of that room—to think, to pray, to make some calls.
The kids were still asleep. I slipped on some clothes, grabbed my cell phone and dashed outside, my heart racing. There was a small lake outside the hotel and I set off around it at a fast pace. Part of me wanted to shout out at God, "Why us?"
Bob and I had had some tough moments in our marriage, including a time when I plunged into depression after a miscarriage. My faith had pulled me through and I was a stronger person for it. Would the same faith sustain me now, even if the news got worse? I simply couldn't imagine what life would be without my husband.
Cathryn, our 12-year-old, was awake when I got back inside. So was 14-year-old Mack. Mercifully the five-year-old twins were still asleep on the pullout couch. "Guys," I said, "Dad has been hurt in Iraq." I told them what I'd learned, that Bob was riding in a tank with the army and something blew up, injuring him. "We don't have a lot of information, but I know he's getting great medical care."
"He's alive?" Cathryn asked, a quiver in her voice.
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"Yes. They're doing all they can for him." Bob was being airlifted to Germany. I would go there immediately to see him. When he was stabilized, he'd come back to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. First we had to fly home to Westchester, outside of New York City.
I have to remain strong for our children, I told myself over and over. On the plane I fought to hide my tears. One thing at a time, I told myself. Just get everybody settled at home. A big gray SUV pulled up in the driveway behind us when we drove in. Out stepped a friend. She already knew—and knew I had to go to Germany. She handed me a goodie bag for the plane with magazines, candy, gum, aspirin and a toothbrush. Then jumped into her car and drove away. Just like that.
It was the first indication of the huge network of friends and family that I would come to rely on over the next few months. They made Costco runs, took my children for playdates, drove them to soccer practices and confirmation classes and dropped off endless meals. Bob's brothers, my sisters, our parents all came and stayed with our children at various points, making it possible for me to be with Bob.
Bob was in intensive care when I got to Germany. The worst was true: The roadside IED had driven shrapnel into Bob's head. They'd already removed half his skull to let his brain swell without crushing against the inside of the cranium and destroying brain function. The doctors were guarded. Bob was young and in good shape, they said. He could recover. But for the first time I heard a phrase that would be repeated again and again: "It takes a long time for the brain to heal. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint."