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Bob Woodruff and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 8th 2007

I had multiple reactions to Larry King's recent interview with Bob Woodruff, an ABC news anchorman who suffered a serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Iraq when a roadside bomb hit his convoy in January 2006. I previously worked in a Brain Injury Recovery Unit of a Veteran's Affairs Hospital during my clinical psychology internship, and was amazed by Woodruff's dramatic recovery. His injury, to the left frontal lobe of his brain (the frontal lobe controls reasoning, planning, parts of speech and movement, emotions, and problem-solving) required doctors to remove 14 cm of his skull. Early video tapes showed a man with a large indented area on the front/side of his head, struggling to find the words for common, everyday objects (a phenomenon called anomia). Fast-forward to the recent interview, and you saw a person who was able to skillfully carry on a conversation in a live interview in front of a national audience. The brain's level of plasticity (the ability to shift functioning from one location to another to compensate for damage or trauma) never ceases to impress me.

I was also inspired by Bob's positive attitude and determination to regain functioning. This is an excellent illustration of the repeated research findings that a sense of optimism can positively impact recovery from and coping with injuries, surgeries, and diagnoses of chronic or life-threatening illness. His social support network (his wife, family and friends) was another excellent example of one of the key ingredients necessary to help people cope with life-altering situations. I was also impressed that a team of dedicated health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, psychologists, speech, occupational, and physical therapists had the knowledge and skills necessary to help someone like Bob recover.

My last and overriding emotion, however, was sadness and frustration. I thought of the thousands of individuals (particularly veterans) who are not well-known celebrities, who probably don't have access to the same level of care, and probably will not enjoy the same level of recovery from their injuries. Bob Woodruff clearly experienced similar emotions, and has set up a foundation to raise money for those suffering from TBI. Unfortunately, this will only be a "drop in the bucket" needed to help the estimated 150,000 soldiers that have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who have some form of TBI. Reports suggest that the VA system is ill-prepared to handle this large number of veterans with this type of injury.



Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Living with a traumatic disability - Fran Lipman - Sep 2nd 2010


I am taking an awful lot of medication since I suffered a disabling illness in 2007. I am now on oxygen 24/7 and a shut in. I had had problems with depression in the past but nothing like this. I keep a blog, so I can write whatever is in my head. It's been a balm for me. Something I never expected it to be. Perhaps my posts can be of help to others and maybe your comments will help me face another day.

My blog is:

My heart goes out to you all.


fighting to recover - linda - Mar 8th 2008
it is a long long road to recover what I once had. The ability to walk, getting the use of an arm back, facial numbness issues, double vision. Already it's been 2 years, glad i can manage alone, but without help, don't know what I'd do. Living on SSI, money's short, stress issues to overcome from the pressure that the build up of fluid in the brain caused on nerves....I try not to call it an overload on my mental health, but truth is, it's getting to be alot! Living alone gets pretty tough too sometimes, but without my faith in the Great Physician, and hope in a total recovery, I'd be pretty mushy. It would help to have family and friends near, one way or another I'll get to Colorado where my daughter lives, but I don't want to be a burden either, that sometimes worries me. Life's a whole new ball game when the circumstances of your physical abilities change, one thing that's really critical in the battle is to keep yourself positive, and after all, things could have been so much worse. I know I couldn't have gone through any of this without just giving the burden to the Lord before the 17 hour brain surgery! You just can't carry that kind of burden on your own shoulders, before the surgery I just had to give it to Him.

And it's a hard road for the TBI/ABI spouses - Richard Anderson - Mar 13th 2007


 I agree with your comments, and as the President of the Well Spouse Association (, I know a number of our members whose spouses or partners have Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). It is not an easy road for most of them.

Despite all the fanfare about Bob Woodruff's remarkable recovery, it would not surprise me to know that the relationship between husband and wife, Bob and Lee, is not the same now -- and that it has been affected by his TBI.

Not casting blame here, or prying into their intimate life, but I know from so many of our members, that there are cognitive and emotional disruptions to their ill spouse's/partner's life and consequently, to the relationship with their well spouse/partner.



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