On their first date in 1988, a boyish Wichita TV reporter named David Bloom took ad agency worker Melanie Bohm to see Tom Hanks play a child trapped in an adult's body in the movie Big. "He could have been that character," says Melanie, 42. And 15 years later, when David, the co-anchor of NBC's Weekend Today, was getting ready to travel among U.S. soldiers fighting the war in Iraq, the older Bloom took to it like a kid plugging in his XBox. "He'd say, 'Mel, look at my helmet,' " recalls Melanie. "He was dealing with a major, significant world event, but at the same time only David could find glee in having a helmet and flak jacket. That was so neat about him, the boyish side of him.' "
Unlike a kid, though, Bloom hated to complain. While covering the war, he brushed off the serious ache in his legs caused by sleeping doubled up in an armored vehicle. On April 5,2003, that cramp killed him when a blood clot caused by a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) traveled to his lungs. Two years later his widow, who lives outside New York City, is using one tragedy to prevent others by raising awareness about what has often been called a silent killer. "After David passed away, I wanted to know more," says the mother of twins Nicole and Christine, 10, and Ava, 5. "I found out that more people die from DVT than from AIDS and breast cancer combined [in the U.S.]. And yet I'd never heard of it."
Melanie wasn't used to speaking in public about anything, much less her personal anguish. "David was the public person," she says. "I am really more reserved and private." But among the 80,000 letters she received after his death was one from a woman who wrote, "Your husband saved my husband's life. We're sorry for your loss, but because of what we saw on the Today show about your husband, my husband, who had been complaining about a kink in his leg, went to see the doctor. He had a blood clot."
That, says Melanie, "made me think." Today she is a paid spokeswoman for the Coalition to Prevent DVT, a position she took with encouragement from David's former colleague Katie Couric. "She said, 'What do you think David would do?' I said, 'If the tables were turned, David would be out there.' And she said, 'Yeah, David would want you to do it, absolutely.' " (See box for more information.)
The can-do spirit of Melanie's husband has proved infectious. After marrying in 1990—Melanie demanded her baby-faced suitor show his ID to prove his age before agreeing to a first date-the couple roved from city to city before settling in New York in 2000. "The national news charted our family course," says Melanie. Taxed by her husband's frequent trips away from home, Melanie was never actually scared until he left to cover the war in Iraq. "I found I couldn't sleep when the war began," she says. "I watched TV constantly. I found it comforting to see him there." Two nights before his death David called and reported that he had a pain in his leg—a warning sign of DVT. Only afterward did Melanie learn that her husband had been limping. "If I just had the knowledge then that I have now," she says.
David, who, like Melanie, was Catholic, had experienced a spiritual rebirth in the desert. In his last e-mail to his wife he spoke of how "God takes you to the depth of your being, until you're at rock bottom and then... picks you up with your bootstraps and leads you home." Since his death, Melanie has followed a parallel path. "Telling the girls was the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, bar none. It was just so hard to shatter their innocence," she says. For a time, laughter disappeared from the house, and the sound of David's brother's voice on the answering machine was enough to set off another round of tears.
But, with the aid of a fixed routine and gestures of support (many from military families), the Bloom family slowly began to see color ebb back into their lives. Melanie says her work with DVT prevention "has helped me rechannel my grief and frustration." And with three budding Blooms to look after, she isn't alone. Faced with the prospect of skipping their school's annual father-daughter dance last November, young Christine invited David's brother Jim, and Nicole, their father's longtime colleague, newsman Bob Woodruff. "When I heard my daughters laugh again after I don't know how many months, that was a milestone," she says. "I'm in awe of them. They have their father's indomitable spirit."
Mary Green in New York City and Giovanna Breu in Chicago
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