Surviving a near-death experience and enduring a painful life-rebuilding process is one way to develop an appreciation for what matters most in life.
A far more agreeable way to acquire such knowledge is to learn inexpensively from others who paid dearly for it.
That is what LPL has done for 5,000 advisors and guests attending its annual LPL Focus conference in San Diego this week, where they heard from former ABC newsman Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee.
The two described the roadside bomb blast and resulting traumatic brain injury Bob suffered while covering the war in Iraq that would forever change their lives.
As is standard for financial services conferences, LPL established a theme this year: “What Matters Most.”
And while the broker-dealer has endeavored to show that the tools and services it offers matter exceedingly to its affiliated advisors, or that helping clients realize their life aspirations rises to that lofty standard, the capstone session in the three-day event was the Woodruffs’ talk because nothing can better demonstrate the value of something than its near loss.
With both humor and poignancy, the Woodruffs described their early life together — meeting, marrying, establishing a family and Bob’s long ride up the career ladder as a broadcast journalist from an unglamorous and botched beginning in a small California town.
But in January 2006, right after achieving the pinnacle of his career — having become co-anchor on ABC’s World News Tonight just 20 days before — he and cameraman Doug Vogt, reporting from a combat zone in Iraq while traveling in an armored vehicle, were hit by an improvised explosive device that put Bob in a semi-comatose state for 36 days.
Only the rapid action of two young medics and a military neurosurgical team saved the then 45-year-old’s life.
“When we were hit…the insurgents opened fire,” Bob recalled. “Our guys fired back, pulled us out of the tank I was in. Blood was pouring out so fast…I asked Doug: ‘Are we alive?’ he said, ‘We’re alive.’ That was my last memory” before emerging from the coma.
He learned a year later that after the Bradley military vehicle got them to a helicopter that could bring them to a field hospital, the pilots got word from their commander not to land because it was too dangerous.
“They turned down the radio and took us anyway; that’s what [they do] to save lives.”
With shrapnel lodged in Woodruff’s brain and his brain so swollen that doctors had to remove 15 centimeters of skull to give it space to heal, time was of the essence.
“In a head injury, every second counts,” his wife Lee said.
Lee was at Disney World with their kids when she received the fateful call about her husband.
“Life became a blur,” she said of the new uncertain life awaiting her.
It was something of a blur for Bob as well during his coma.
“The last thing I remember: I saw my body floating underneath me. It was peaceful, it was painless, sort of white; there was no pain whatsoever, no nightmares,” he recalled.
“The next five weeks of Bob’s coma were surreal,” said Lee. At around the same time, the husband of a close friend died suddenly.
“In that loss, there was a bottom, a finality” that was wholly missing from the grief and uncertainty she was then experiencing. “With a five-week coma, no one was able to tell me what he’d be left with, if he’d love me, if he’d remember me.”
But 36 days later, at 3 a.m., Bob suddenly sat up and said to a Navy corpsman attending him, “Where is my life?”