It was a small joke, but the payoff was huge. On Feb. 20, Dave Woodruff was visiting the hospital room of his brother Bob—the ABC News coanchor seriously injured in late January by a roadside bomb in Iraq—to offer moral support. "I looked at him and said, 'I hate to tell you this, Bob,'" says Dave, 45, "'but you still have a face for TV.'" That ribbing elicited a brief but heartwarming smile, says Dave. "It was pretty uplifting."
Particularly after the three tense and anxious weeks Woodruff's family had endured following the Jan. 29 blast, which fractured Woodruff's skull and shoulder—and also wounded ABC cameraman Doug Vogt, 46. "We kept being told to be patient—that these things take their own time," says Dave. "In the last week, things started to happen, and he's progressing very well."
Albeit in tiny steps. Still at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.—where doctors are slowly reducing his heavy sedation, meant to relieve pressure on his brain—Woodruff, 44, is beginning to communicate, responding when visited by his son and three daughters. "He reached out and hugged them and was puckering up and trying to give them kisses," says Dave. Though doctors have expressed optimism they won't "speculate what the end result will ultimately be," says Dave. But they have said contact with family members typically aids recovery. "We've been told that over and over again," he says.
Central has been Woodruff's wife, Lee, 45. "She's had her moments, and those are private," says Dave, "but she is exceptionally strong." If recovery continues at this pace, Woodruff could leave the hospital in a few weeks and move to a rehabilitation facility. Already, Lee Woodruff told friends in a Feb. 5 e-mail, doctors have been gratified by her husband's determination. "I don't kid myself," she wrote. "The road ahead is a marathon, not a sprint."
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