Bob and Lee Woodruff discuss how lives can change “In an Instant”

Bob Woodruff at SMUJust weeks after journalist Bob Woodruff (right) was named co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” he suffered a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb explosion while covering the war in Iraq. He and his wife, Lee, discussed his injury, recovery and the challenges he continues to face Mar. 4 at the Turner Construction Student Forum. They are co-authors of the best-selling book In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing. Read more. (Photography by Mike Fuentes.)

What inspired you to write a book about your recovery from your traumatic brain injury in Iraq?

Bob: Since I was in a coma for 36 days after the injury, Lee is the one who began writing this. This is what Lee has always done to get through pain in her life. It never really was intended for a book. I started writing so I could recover and regain my ability to speak and write.

Lee Woodruff at SMU on March 4, 2008

Lee: This started as my personal therapy. Everything was so out of control after Bob’s injury. I’d leave the hospital and go back to the hotel every day, then write about what happened that day.

While Bob was still in a coma, his neurosurgeon told me, “Someone needs to write a book about this. There are thousands of servicemen coming back from this war with traumatic brain injuries, and no one knows anything about it.”

That really stayed with me. We could tell the story honestly, warts and all. People have thanked us for writing such an honest book. It is an unvarnished look at life. Life is work. Life is the unexpected. It’s how you rise up to meet those challenges that will define you. It’s an honor to have shed light on this issue.

What has been the greatest challenge of your injury?

Bob: In the beginning there was a great deal of pain. I had headaches all the time. Of course, there has been fatigue, that’s starting to get better. There’s sadness. But you slowly over time improve. Right now my biggest frustration is lack of words. I’m able to remember some words that are very complicated. But sometimes I can’t remember who’s running for president. That’s something I’m going to be dealing with for a long time. It’s called aphasia. I’m getting used to it.

Would you still encourage young people to pursue a career in journalism?

Bob: I love journalism. It is a miracle that I can come back and do this kind of work again. I was 30 when I finally realized what I wanted to do. I was teaching law classes to Chinese students in 1989 when the Tiananmen Square uprising took place. CBS hired me as a translator. I probably would not have become a television journalist if not for that experience.

As a student, you probably don’t know what you’ll do. You’ll find out as you go along.

Lee, do you have anxiety about Bob traveling to other countries as a journalist after his injury? Do you travel with him?

Lee: We have four children ages 15, 14, and 7-year-old twins. I don’t travel with him for work. People are always asking me, “How do you let him go?” You have to, it’s life. If you were frightened every time you walked out the door that wouldn’t be any way to live.

You are a great inspiration to young reporters. Who do you look up to and who inspires you?

Bob: Peter Jennings. I love the fact that he concentrated so much on international reporting, even when others weren’t. I think we still need to cover international news more than we do. He has been gone for two years; I still miss him.

What do you think about the status of the war in Iraq?

Bob: I was in Iraq seven times before my injury, but I haven’t been back for two years. The doctors I know tell me there’s a lot less violence, a lot fewer injuries. Whatever you think about the war, the soldiers who come back with injuries need to be treated a lot better than they have been.

What is your favorite interview?

Bob: A lot of people assume interviews with presidents, senators, congressmen and political leaders would be my favorites. In many ways the most moving interviews to me are with those that have gone through exactly what I’ve gone through, a brain injury.