Bob Woodruff and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. is a licensed Psychologist in the state of Ohio (License #6083). She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from ...Read More

I had multiple reactions to Larry King’s recent interview with Bob Woodruff, an ABC news anchorman who suffered a serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Iraq when a roadside bomb hit his convoy in January 2006. I previously worked in a Brain Injury Recovery Unit of a Veteran’s Affairs Hospital during my clinical psychology internship, and was amazed by Woodruff’s dramatic recovery. His injury, to the left frontal lobe of his brain (the frontal lobe controls reasoning, planning, parts of speech and movement, emotions, and problem-solving) required doctors to remove 14 cm of his skull. Early video tapes showed a man with a large indented area on the front/side of his head, struggling to find the words for common, everyday objects (a phenomenon called anomia). Fast-forward to the recent interview, and you saw a person who was able to skillfully carry on a conversation in a live interview in front of a national audience. The brain’s level of plasticity (the ability to shift functioning from one location to another to compensate for damage or trauma) never ceases to impress me.

I was also inspired by Bob’s positive attitude and determination to regain functioning. This is an excellent illustration of the repeated research findings that a sense of optimism can positively impact recovery from and coping with injuries, surgeries, and diagnoses of chronic or life-threatening illness. His social support network (his wife, family and friends) was another excellent example of one of the key ingredients necessary to help people cope with life-altering situations. I was also impressed that a team of dedicated health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, psychologists, speech, occupational, and physical therapists had the knowledge and skills necessary to help someone like Bob recover.

My last and overriding emotion, however, was sadness and frustration. I thought of the thousands of individuals (particularly veterans) who are not well-known celebrities, who probably don’t have access to the same level of care, and probably will not enjoy the same level of recovery from their injuries. Bob Woodruff clearly experienced similar emotions, and has set up a foundation to raise money for those suffering from TBI. Unfortunately, this will only be a "drop in the bucket" needed to help the estimated 150,000 soldiers that have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who have some form of TBI. Reports suggest that the VA system is ill-prepared to handle this large number of veterans with this type of injury.



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