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'Long Way to Go' for ABC's Wounded

Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, injured in Iraq, may be sent today to U.S. for treatment.

January 31, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt showed improvement Monday, a day after a roadside explosion rocked their vehicle as they traveled on an Iraq road north of Baghdad, spraying shrapnel that left them both with severe head injuries.

The two journalists, who were airlifted to a U.S. military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, on Sunday night, remained in serious but stable condition. ABC News President David Westin said doctors there reported that the two men showed signs of improvement, although Woodruff -- who sustained upper body injuries, as well -- had more extensive wounds. Both could be transported to the United States for treatment as soon as today.

"We have a long way to go," Westin said in a statement Monday. "But it appears that we may have also come some distance from yesterday."

Woodruff on Monday responded to stimuli on his hands and feet and briefly opened his eyes, ABC correspondent Jim Sciutto reported on "World News Tonight." Vogt was awake and joking, which "gave us a chance to smile today," Sciutto said.

Vogt's wife, Vivian, and Woodruff's wife, Lee, along with his brother and sister-in-law, waited at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for updates about their condition. They were joined by Melanie Bloom, a close friend of the Woodruff family and the widow of former NBC correspondent David Bloom, who died in Iraq in 2003.

"Having seen him, we think he's going to recover eventually," Woodruff's brother David told ABC. "It's going to be a long road, but I think he's a strong guy and he's going to make it.... We want to see him recover and return to what he loves to do."

Landstuhl chief surgeon Guillermo Tellez noted that patients with similar injuries "in most cases, whether they are severe or not, many times do heal."

"It takes time," he told Reuters Television. "It takes a tremendous amount of patience, not only on the part of the patients but the family, surgeons and rehabilitation specialists to get these patients back to as good a life as possible."

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, a friend of Woodruff, said Woodruff's family was encouraged to learn that the swelling in his brain had gone down after doctors removed part of his skull on Sunday. The ABC newsman also has a broken collarbone and broken ribs, and doctors had not yet determined whether shrapnel had penetrated his brain, Brokaw said.

"These are the wages of war, and it's a painful way to be reminded of just how dangerous that situation is," Brokaw said on NBC's "Today" show.

Woodruff, co-anchor of "World News Tonight," and Vogt, a veteran television cameraman, were traveling Sunday in an Iraqi military vehicle attached to the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division as part of a routine convoy near Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad, when they hit a roadside bomb. At the time, both men -- who were wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets -- were standing up in the back hatch of the lead vehicle, taping video of the patrol. After the blast, insurgents began firing from three directions, ABC reported.

"Immediately after the explosion, he turned to his producer and said, 'Am I alive?' and 'Don't tell Lee,' and then he began to cry out in excruciating pain," Brokaw said.

Woodruff and Vogt, who both sustained shrapnel wounds to their heads, were transported by helicopter to a U.S. military hospital in Balad, where they underwent surgery. Hours later, they were flown to Germany.

Vogt, 46, has three daughters. Woodruff, 44, has four children.

The two men had been embedded with the 4th Infantry Division for two days and were working on a story about U.S. efforts to train Iraqi military forces.

According to ABC, both men had been riding in an armored Army Humvee earlier in the day but decided to move to the less-protected Iraqi personnel carrier.

Woodruff's co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas, said Monday that it was necessary for journalists to watch the Iraqi forces up close to shed light on how prepared they were to take over for American troops.

"You can't assess their readiness unless you are traveling with them and observing them doing their jobs," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Friends said that Woodruff was well aware of the dangers involved in his assignments.

"We've talked about that dance you have to dance to be a good journalist and be a good parent," said CBS correspondent Byron Pitts, who described Woodruff as "an old-school sober journalist."

"Bob is one of those guys who did everything humanly possible to be cautious," he added.

Still, colleagues said he could be fearless about getting a story.

"We used to call him the human test pilot, because whatever story demanded something risky, Bob would do it," Bill Spencer, a reporter with WXYZ in Detroit who used to work with Woodruff at a Phoenix affiliate, told CNN International.

Despite the dangers in Iraq, Westin reiterated that the network would not scale back its coverage of the war.

"What choice do we have?" the ABC News president asked on "Good Morning America." "As long as the United States is over there and our men and women are over there and they are in harm's way ... what choice do we have but to figure out how best we can cover that story?"

Woodruff and Vargas were selected in December to succeed the late Peter Jennings.

On Sunday and Monday, Vargas anchored "World News Tonight" alone.

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