Share this article on:

A Personal Account of Recovery From TBI

Warden, Deborah L MD; Helmick, Kathy CRNP

doi: 10.1097/01.NT.0000291694.01029.da

Dr. Warden is national director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Helmick, a neuroscience nurse, is acting director of clinical and educational affairs at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing • By Lee and Bob Woodruff • 304 pages • Random House 2007

In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing, Bob and Lee Woodruff's account of their life together and apart — as they coped with Bob's severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) incurred while he was a TV journalist embedded with the US Army in Iraq — is an engaging, informative, heart wrenching, and ultimately uplifting read.

The book opens with Lee and their four children at Disney World, coincidentally on a ride called the Tower of Terror. Lee is talking to Bob on her cell phone, when he tells her his plans to embed; ironically, because of a poor connection she believes that he is going to bed.

Hours later, Lee learns of the horrific explosion that injured her husband. The accounts of the ensuing in-theatre trauma care, hospitalizations, separation from children, and Bob's ongoing recovery over the following year, are intimately described and provide a rich account of their love and commitment to each other and their family, including the extended family of relatives, friends, and neighbors.



Back to Top | Article Outline


This is a story of huge success — of the patient who makes an excellent recovery after 36 days of coma, with the support of his family.

Bob was injured just as he was named co-anchor of ABC “World News Tonight.” He had transformed himself from a lawyer to a frontline journalist who was on top of his game — at the pinnacle of his career.

The story poignantly follows Lee, who, accustomed to being with her children while Bob covered stories all over the world, adjusts to separation from her children for long periods to be with Bob when he needs her most. The sacrifices lovingly undertaken by Lee and their children are an important pillar for Bob's recovery.

Through it all Lee has the support of her friend Melanie Bloom, who experienced similar emotions and heartbreak when her husband, NBC journalist and reporter David Bloom, died of a deep vein thrombosis in 2003 while covering the Iraq war. There are lessons to be learned here by reading how one family approached disappointment, uncertainty, and grief — and how they refused to be defined by any of it. How to deal with the realities of TBI, retain hope, and work to the limit to surpass all expectations is at the heart of the book.

We wholeheartedly recommend this book for lay and professional audiences who want to read about TBI from the perspective of the family. It also illuminates how one person's injury totally reorders the lives of multiple families.

The story should remind health-care providers of how desperate patients and families are for any nugget of information, especially related to the future and functional outcome. This story is also about hope: the Woodruffs' unrelenting search for the positive in each piece of clinical news — and their use of humor as a coping mechanism to keep their marriage and family intact. A family's need for hope after a critical event has been supported by the critical care literature as well.

TBI is the signature injury of the Iraq war and has received unprecedented attention from the public, Congress, and the military. The Woodruffs acknowledge that not everyone in the military with TBI — or the families — has access to the same resources and level of family support. They have established the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Services to assist other service members in this way.

Several Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs workgroups have suggested ways to augment care for the injured at a time when Congress has provided necessary funding to support those improvements. The combined role of the public, the press, the military, and Congress, along with individual accounts such as Bob Woodruff's, do much to provide communities with better understanding and capabilities for helping people with TBI.

For so many who have experienced devastating events in this war and at other times, Lee offers beautiful insight into the healing process. She writes: “There are no shortcuts to healing. There is no circumventing the pain. To truly heal, you must walk right through the blazing core of grief and face it head on, every agonizing day. …It will change you, morph you into someone more empathetic, more aware of what is precious, and more clearly able to see your priorities.” This is a lesson we can all take to heart.

© 2007 American Academy of Neurology