By Michael Schindler
New York Times best-selling author Lee Woodruff had a wake-up call no wife ever wants to have.
Her husband, award-winning journalist Bob Woodruff, suffered a severe injury from a roadside bomb while covering military actions in Iraq. Their journey to recovery, which has garnered critical acclaim for being both compelling and humorous, is chronicled in the best-selling book “In an Instant.”
In an instant, both their lives changed and from that moment on, the couple has helped put a face on the serious issue of traumatic brain injury among returning Iraq war veterans – as well as the millions of Americans who live with this often invisible, but very life-changing affliction.
They have founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation to assist wounded servicemen and their families. Their foundation is committed to helping families who suffer from TBI receive the long-term care that they need as well as helping them successfully reintegrate into their communities.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Woodruff and uncover more details of how she and Bob worked through such a sudden and life-changing event. The purpose of the interview was to provide helpful insight for those who are walking this same journey.
Q: After the initial news of hearing of your husband’s injuries, what resource did you turn to for support and help? What about it was helpful?
A: After Bob was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, I immediately turned to my family and friends for support. I already knew I had wonderful people around me, but experiencing this crisis firsthand helped me fully appreciate how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such caring family and friends. I was lucky to have this support team in place as I faced many new challenges after Bob’s painful, life-threatening traumatic brain injury. The one challenge that no one should have to endure is not knowing where to turn for information. That’s why I was so glad to have the opportunity to partner with the National Family Caregivers Association and Purdue Pharma to develop a resource called Caregiver Cornerstones, which offers helpful tips to those caring for a loved one. You can access the content at www.partneragainstpain.com.
Q: What is/was the most difficult part of caring for your husband? How did you overcome and work through it? Was it 24/7 – and if so, how did you keep your sanity?
A: During Bob’s recovery, my life was consumed by caring for him. At the same time, I was trying to remain calm and be a strong mother for our four children, who at the time ranged from twins in the second grade to teenagers. As my kids will tell you, it was difficult balancing our emotions as we went through the ups-and-downs of Bob’s recovery. I stayed sane by keeping faith – faith that Bob would heal, and faith that I had the strength to hold our family together through this trial. We were fortunate that Bob had access to some of the best doctors and medicines available during his recovery, and that isn’t always the case for many others – particularly for those who are coping with chronic pain. One of the key learnings for me is that we need to make sure that people know that pain can and should be treated. We all have a right to proper medical care.
Q: How has this injury changed your outlook on life? For better?
A: Bob’s devastating injury and remarkable recovery have given me a far different perspective on the fragility and joys of life. I’ve learned to lower my expectations for perfection! Now I’m much more forgiving of myself – I leave a lot more dirty dishes in the sink. There is a lot more information about how my life changed after Bob’s injury on my website at www.leewoodruff.com. The site also houses my blog, interviews I’ve conducted, as well as links to other sites caregivers find helpful.
Q: What would you tell other spouses who are just now entering this initial shock of lifelong or long-term care for their loved one is the most important thing to remember?
A: To those new caregivers entering this challenging period in your lives, remember to care for yourselves. That is one of the four pillars of Caregiver Cornerstones. To effectively care for a loved one, you must ensure that you are taking care of yourself – both physically and emotionally. When Bob was recovering, I found that even if all I could do was just one small thing for me each day, I felt stronger and was better able to care for him and our family. I hope that other caregivers find a way to make time for themselves, too.
Q: Remind.org has a mission to assist wounded servicemen and their families in receiving the long-term care that they need to help them successfully reintegrate into their communities – how so? If I am caring for a loved one who has been injured, what can I expect from Remind.org?
A: My husband Bob and I established The Bob Woodruff Foundation to provide support and resources to service members, veterans and their families. By investing in innovative national and community-based programs across the U.S. the foundation aims to integrate our nation’s injured heroes back into their civilian lives so they may thrive – physically, psychologically, socially and economically. While we estimate that to date, approximately 516,000 service members, veterans, families and support personnel have been impacted by our charitable giving initiatives, we know there is more work to be done.
Please check out our web site at www.ReMind.org to learn more and find out what you can do to help.
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.