Every so often, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff feels a rock "emerge" from his face “like a zit," he says. But it's not a pimple; it's a not-so-subtle reminder of what he has been through over the past four years.
On Jan. 29, 2006, a mere 27 days after he was tapped to succeed Peter Jennings as the co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight, Woodruff was nearly killed when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle while on assignment near Taji, Iraq.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a very rare disorder that causes the brain to break down.
Also called "classic" CJD, it worsens quickly. Most people die within a year of getting it.
The disease destroys brain cells. Seen through a microscope, it makes the brain look like a sponge.
Classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is not the same as “mad cow disease," which only happens in cattle. It's also not linked to "variant" CJD, which comes from products made from cattle that had mad cow disease.
The details of the attack are still murky, but an improvised explosive device (IED) waylaid his convoy. Woodruff was wearing body armor and was in a tank, but his head, neck, and shoulders were exposed during the blast. The blast knocked Woodruff unconscious as rocks and metal pierced his face, jaw, and neck. Woodruff's cameraman, Doug Vogt, and an Iraqi soldier were also hurt.
"How I survived, we still don’t know to this day," Woodruff said in a speech this month in San Diego at the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery's annual meeting. The audience included the surgeon who rebuilt his face after the attack.
Road to Recovery
Right after the blast, no one thought Woodruff would survive. A medic told his wife, Lee, that a piece of paper that read "expected" was pinned to his chest. "I was expected to die," Woodruff says. When he survived, no one thought he would be able to work again -- especially as a broadcast journalist.
But Woodruff returned to the air 13 months after getting injured, telling his story in a documentary called To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports. "I was nervous my first time back in front of the camera, and people were astounded that I was back at all," Woodruff says.
The journey back was not easy. Immediately after the attack, Woodruff was placed in a medically induced coma for 36 days so his brain could rest and heal.
Upon waking up, "I could not remember my family members' names," Woodruff recalls. "I remembered [my wife] Lee and two of my kids. I could not remember my twins' names. I did not even remember having twins."