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North Shore panel views recovery 20 years after severe brain injuries

Writer Lee Woodruff signs copies of her book "Those We Love Most" after delivering a keynote address on traumatic brain injuries at North Shore-LIJ in Manhasset, L.I. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

It has been more than seven years since American journalist Bob Woodruff suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb in Iraq, but his wife Lee said that was only the beginning of a new journey.

After the improvised explosive device nearly killed her husband, Lee Woodruff said she and her family underwent an entirely new set of challenges beyond the initial recovery phase.

Lee Woodruff, an author of several books, including “Those We Love Most,” delivered a keynote address Sunday inside the North Shore-LIJ Rust Auditorium in Manhasset, L.I., on how others cope with traumatic brain injuries, marking the 25th anniversary of the Transitions of Long Island, which is part of the health system and treats such injuries.

As her husband recovered, Woodruff said he would have sporadic “snaps” and become argumentative. One of her family’s biggest challenges, she said, has been understanding the continued impact such a severe injury could have.

“My sadness for my little children especially is that they will never remember us as a couple,” Woodruff said of her four children and how they have been affected.

Bob Woodruff has since returned to the airwaves as a journalist for ABC, but his wife said he still experiences difficulties related to his recovery that pose constant hurdles for the family.

After Lee Woodruff’s address, a panel of Transitions alumni gathered to share their stories of overcoming great adversity in the decades after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

On that four-person panel, 45-year-old Kevin McCarthy shared his story of overcoming serious gunshot injuries he sustained in 1993 in what has become known as the Long Island Rail Road massacre, which claimed his father’s life. Both were shot by Colin Ferguson on a trip home from Manhattan on the LIRR in a terrifying incident that ultimately claimed the lives of six passengers.

His mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Garden City), has gone on to become a staunch advocate for gun control and was also in attendance for the panel.

McCarthy underwent multiple brain surgeries and said he still experiences short-term memory issues, but has gone on to become a proud father of two.

“My recovery over this 20-year period has been long and goes on on a daily basis,” McCarthy said. “It is an ongoing thing that never ends and I have my family and friends to thank for helping me recover.”

David Bracher, 41, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was 17 in 1988 from a horrific car accident. He stood in front of the audience at North Shore-LIJ Sunday to deliver an inspiring tale on how he overcame and endured serious injuries over the last two decades.

“You forget to lean on your friends and family,” Bracher said. “It took a long time to accept what I had and move on with what I had. The challenges will always be there and I have accepted who I am and my abilities.”

Bracher went on to have two children and work full-time in the seafood industry despite his ongoing efforts to put his injury and its after-effects in the past.

“Success is whatever you want it to be,” Bracher said. “I have my health, and anything else, we can deal with.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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