On a table in Bob Woodruff's office at ABC News is a stack of flash cards with illustrations of household items. They are a reminder of the difficult days that followed for the correspondent after he suffered a traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device while reporting in Iraq.
"I couldn't even say scissor," he says as he palms one card. "I couldn't say hammer. When I could finally say it, I spelled it h-a-m-o-r. This was my therapy in the first month or two after I woke up — just trying to name these things."
Nearly five years to the day of the near-fatal attack, Woodruff found himself drawing on his experience when he reported on the condition of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Woodruff brought along a plastic model of his own skull to help explain to viewers the medical procedures that helped save Giffords' life after a bullet pierced the left side of her brain during a January 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people.
Off air, he talked with Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, about the tough road ahead. "I told him about the pace of recovery and the unpredictability," he says. "I said, 'You will be better a year from now, and two years from now better than you were the year before.' There is going to be great frustration for both her and for him on how slow this can be."
Woodruff doesn't flinch when talking about what happened to him or even when viewing video of himself during his long recovery. "I don't need to distance myself from my own experiences," he says. "If it helps people understand, it's worth it." Since Woodruff returned to work in 2007, he's reported extensively on military veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who suffered similar injuries. His foundation has raised $11.8 million for their care.
Of course, it helps that Woodruff's recovery is nothing short of miraculous. His memory and speech have improved enough that he's begun filling in as an anchor on the weekend editions of Good Morning America and ABC World News. Despite some impairment to his vision, he has resumed playing tennis and his favorite sport, soccer. ("Don't tell my doctors," he says.)
Woodruff has also returned to reporting overseas, but ABC News bosses still won't send him to any dangerous hot spots. That hasn't been easy for a journalist who admits he's addicted to the action. He yearns to be on the scene of the current uprising in Egypt. "Why not?" he says with a laugh. "It's not a war yet. Maybe by the time you print this I will have asked them to send me."