Last year, Bob Woodruff spent 27 days as co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. His 28th day — January 29, 2006 — was one he can’t remember too well. Nor can he remember the 36 days spent in a coma recovering from injuries he and cameraman Doug Vogt suffered from a roadside bomb while reporting in Iraq.
“The 28th day was a problem,” ABC News chief David Westin said.
Woodruff screened To Iraq And Back, a prime-time documentary on the blast and his recovery — and the soldiers who’ve returned from Iraq with traumatic brain injuries — for a dozen or so media reporters, some teary-eyed, this morning in New York.
Woodruff says he remembers seeing his body “floating below” him in the U.S. tank he was traveling in. “I was spitting a lot of blood,” Woodruff recalled. “‘Am I alive?'”
But it’s what Woodruff can’t remember, he says, that has been the most difficult part of his recovery. (A common Woodruff refrain: “That my family had to go through all this … it kills me.”) In the days after coming out of his coma, he says he couldn’t remember his two youngest daughters’ existence, let alone their names. In a startling scene in the documentary, Woodward struggles with flash cards to identify scissors, and his children explain to him what a belt buckle is.
The third and perhaps most intriguing part of To Iraq focuses not on Woodruff but on the impact of the burgeoning “TBI” epidemic on the country’s Veteran’s hospitals, and the lack of information on “TBI” being provided by the government.
Is the government falling short in helping the veterans?
“Yes,” says Woodruff.
Woodruff’s wife, Lee, figures heavily in the documentary. Her book on the ordeal, In An Instant, is out tomorrow from Random House.
Woodruff has been to Iraq seven times since 2002, but he’s not going back anytime soon, at least not for ABC. “I will not send him,” says Westin. “He’s more vulnerable [now]. It would be the height of recklessness for ABC News to allow Bob Woodruff to go to Iraq. It’s insane.”