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The DO | Special Coverage | OMED 2012

Author Lee Woodruff praises healers who offer hope, allow for miracles

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“The people I admire and respect the most are the ones who admit they don't have all the answers,” Lee Woodruff tells the audience at OMED 2012. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

During an inspirational talk this morning at OMED, best-selling author and “CBS This Morning” contributor Lee Woodruff shared the challenges her family faced after her husband, Bob, was critically wounded in Iraq in January 2006.

Then a recently named co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” Bob Woodruff, who was embedded with U.S. troops, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device that detonated near the tank he was riding on. A rock the size of a half dollar pierced through the left side of his neck and was sitting right on top of the carotid artery.

“That rock leaned against, but did not perforate, the carotid,” Woodruff said, noting that she doesn’t believe his life was spared for any special reason. “I believe in faith, good luck and bad luck. There is just timing. There is nobody upstairs pointing a finger at who is going to get breast cancer or whose son is going to die. Things happen. But what defines us is the way that we respond.

“And you don’t find that out until you go through the bad thing. You find out things about yourself.”

Woodruff told the audience that she admires osteopathic medicine’s approach to care, explaining that she has known several DOs, including a good friend. What she especially appreciates is that osteopathic physicians often acknowledge “the possibility of things beyond medical explanation and scientific explanation”—miracles, that is.

“The people I admire and respect the most are the ones who admit they don’t have all the answers—that there are things we are probably never going to figure out,” she said.

Recovery

Woodruff noted how impressed she was with the acute care her husband received on the front lines. “I cannot say enough about military medicine,” she said. Ignoring orders to turn around, two young medics in a helicopter insisted on landing in the intense battle zone and kept her husband, who was bleeding profusely, alive.

Woodruff

Shortly before going on stage, Lee Woodruff (center) visits with AOA President Ray E. Stowers, DO (right), and AOA President-elect Norman E. Vinn, DO. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

In a makeshift hospital on the battlefield, Woodruff noted, one of the Army nurses said to him, “I know who you are. I know you have children. I’m going to do everything I can to get you back to them.”

“That moment of kindness at a random Army hospital made out of tents and generators speaks to me about what you do,” Woodruff said. “You’re able to put someone else’s life and needs before your own—the ultimate sacrifice it takes to be in medicine.”

But while impressed with the acute care her husband received in Iraq, Woodruff had some issues with the attitudes of physicians who helped him during later stages of recovery. She had been living moment by moment, holding on to hope that her husband, who had developed sepsis and pneumonia, would emerge from his coma. Then, finally, after 36 days of complete unawareness of his surroundings, he responded by shedding a tear when kissed by his 12-year-old daughter.

But his physician, rather than offer encouragement, offered cruel candor. “I think you need to understand your husband is on the knife’s edge,” he told her.

“All that happens in a hospital setting is that you get hope beaten out of you as a family member,” Woodruff said. “People would say he might die, never talk on the phone, never be able to work again.” Nonetheless, through incredible effort, her husband has recovered much of what he lost.

“Any control I had over my life, any balance, all of that really disappeared in the face of Bob’s injuries and his needs,” Woodruff said. “The gift of the bad thing is the third eye and the foresight it brings. It has to.

“Really the take-away is so simple. It’s really about today. It’s really about this moment. It’s about being as present as much as we can.”

cschierhorn@osteopathic.org

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