Al Roker Got Through Life-Threatening Health Crisis with Wife Deborah: 'Without Her, I Wouldn't Be Here'

The beloved Today show weatherman and his wife, ABC News' senior national affairs correspondent Deborah Roberts, discuss the health issues he faced and how their love carried them through it

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Deborah Roberts and Al Roker on Today on Jan. 6, 2023. Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC/Getty

After a harrowing health crisis that almost cost Al Roker his life, Deborah Roberts, his wife of 27 years, says she's relishing the small moments they share.

"Somebody gave me a gift for Christmas, a paperweight that said, 'Learn to appreciate the beauty of an ordinary day,' " Roberts, an ABC News' senior national affairs correspondent and contributing anchor for 20/20, tells PEOPLE. "And I think that's what we're learning — to appreciate the beauty of just ordinary stuff."

The last two months have been anything but ordinary for the beloved Today show weatherman and his family.

Starting in early November when he was initially diagnosed with blood clots that moved from his leg to his lungs, Roker was hospitalized twice at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for nearly 2 weeks at a time.

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Al Roker in the hospital in December. Courtesy Al Roker

Roker, 68, has faced other health issues in the past, including a 2020 prostate cancer diagnosis. But this latest scare brought him close to dying, which terrified Roberts.

"I was truly bracing myself to have a talk with the kids about the possibility of losing their father," says Roberts, 62, about their daughter Leila, 24, and son Nick, 20, as well as his daughter Courtney, 35, from his first marriage.

Adds Roker: "I'm blessed to be alive."

Roker's troubles began in early November when he woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating stomach pains. He consulted his longtime internist, Dr. Jahangir Rahman, who ran batteries of tests on him.

When scans revealed he had blood clots in his lungs that had traveled from his leg, he was immediately sent to the hospital.

"It was scary," says Roberts. What was even more frightening was when doctors found internal bleeding in Roker's abdomen.

Despite countless tests, CT scans and MRIs, doctors at first weren't sure what was causing the bleeding.

"In the first week, we had a parade of different consultants" come see him, says his gastroenterologist Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, Director of the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

"So many different things were happening [with him]" she says.

For more details from PEOPLE's exclusive interview with Al Roker, pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday

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Al Roker back at work on Jan. 6, 2023. Nathan Congleton/NBC/Getty

Besides being there for Roker, supporting him and making sure he was comfortable and had everything he needed, Roberts worked tirelessly as his liaison with the doctors so he could rest.

"I felt like the only thing I could do was just sort of be his voice, and fight for him," she says.

Her job was to get him through it, she says. "It was hard. To see somebody you love so much in this state of depletion is really hard. He was exhausted."

After nearly two weeks in the hospital, Roker was deemed clinically stable to go home for Thanksgiving — with the proviso that he go see his internist the next morning and keep in close contact with his medical team.

A Complicated, 7-Hour Surgery

Feeling faint, Roker was rushed back to the hospital the day after Thanksgiving. He was showing new signs of bleeding, and the team decided to perform surgery to "definitively identify the bleeding source," says Schnoll-Sussman.

For Roker, one of the most frightening moments came right before he was about to undergo surgery. "You're thinking, 'Well, here we go.' I assume I'm going to see everybody [afterwards],'" he says.

For Roberts and the kids, the nearly 7-hour surgery was excruciating as they waited for word about how it went.

Staying strong in front of Roker, she says, "I would go home and I would cry. I was terrified."

An Ever-Upbeat Patient

Throughout his ordeal, Roker remained positive, which surprised even Roberts, who is used to his optimism.

Shortly after the surgery, Roberts says, "I'm just looking at his monitor, and I'm praying that his heart rate is going to stay strong, and his blood count will be good, and all of that. And then he says, 'I'm going to make this turkey for Christmas,' " referring to a recipe he saw in The New York Times.

"That's when I knew he was going to be okay," she says, smiling. "That spoke to his will and his indomitable spirit. To see that in him was a beautiful thing. I think that was what blew me away."

Turning to Roker and taking his hand in the Today show green room, she says, "It was just a beautiful thing to see you endure being a pin cushion, with the vampires coming for you every other few hours to get more blood, and all of that. Anybody else would've said, 'You know what? I've had it. I'm out.' "

Looking at Roberts, Roker says softly, "Without you, I would not be here. There's no question about that. "But here we are," he says.

Then in true Roker fashion, he jokes, "You may live to regret it."

On the Mend

After Roker got out of the hospital on Dec. 9 and his Today show colleagues — including Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Jenna Bush and scores of staffers and crew members — surprised him at his Manhattan brownstone and sang Christmas carols to him.

Celebrating Christmas, one of Roker's favorite times of the year, was among the best medicine he could ever have had, Roberts says.

"I could see the strength coming back," she says. "I could see the blood coming back to his face." Al Roker/Instagram
Al Roker, Deborah Roberts and family at Christmas. Al Roker/Instagram

"Being with the family, all of that just gave him that shot of rejuvenation that he needed. Courtney, Leila and Nick were there. He saw his sister who came to town. His brother was here a lot with us. I think I could just see him exhale."

As for his outlook going forward, Roker says "It's good. I'm grateful."

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