ABC's Bob Woodruff Celebrates Life While Helping Vets 16 Years After Bomb Nearly Killed Him in Iraq

A roadside bomb hit Bob Woodruff on Jan. 29, 2006, damaging his brain. "You just feel so blessed that you're alive and you're awake," he tells PEOPLE.

Sixteen years ago, everything changed for ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff as he was riding in an armored vehicle in Iraq. On Jan. 29, 2006, a roadside bomb went off on, and Woodruff, along with his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were severely injured with shrapnel wounds to the head.

Woodruff was treated at hospitals in Iraq and Germany before returning to the U.S. He was in a coma for almost 40 days, and then endured a tough recovery period.

"You wake up, and you don't really know the reality of what you have been going through and what the family's going through," Woodruff, now 60, tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) in a segment airing Friday night.

"You just feel so blessed that you're alive and you're awake," he says. "And then you start slowly to realize you're not the same person that you were before. It takes some time before you realize it and then of course, to admit it."

Woodruff and his wife Lee, 61, are so grateful that he survived the harrowing ordeal, they are celebrating the anniversary during his Alive Day on Saturday. They will also honor those who never return from a tour of duty.

On that traumatic day, Woodruff, then a co-anchor of ABC's World News Tonight, was reporting on Iraqi and American security forces.

"We were in about eight different vehicles in line, going down a road. And then the IED [improvised explosive device] exploded on the left side and kind of changed our lives," says Woodruff, now an ABC news correspondent.

Bob and Lee Woodruff
Bob and Lee Woodruff. Bob Woodruff Foundation

"That blast, with powerful air, knocked us out instantly," he says. "And then it was followed by rocks and metal that pierced through the left side of my head and knocked me out."

Military surgeons had to remove a piece of his skull to alleviate the swelling in his brain.

"I was really out for about 36 days, before I finally woke up in Bethesda Naval," he says, referring to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. "I guess I missed all of February, let's put it that way."

He then underwent physical as well as cognitive therapy, as the injury to his brain made it difficult for him to find the correct words.

"In the beginning, I couldn't think of a synonym for a particular word," he says, "and I'd have to figure out a different way to express what I wanted to express."

While hospitalized, Woodruff was surrounded by young, wounded service members, many without the support he received from his wife, four children and colleagues.

Bob Woodruff
Bob Woodruff. Bob Woodruff Foundation

Lee and Bob felt they needed to lend a hand to these soldiers, and decided to start the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

"It struck me of course that we were getting so much attention because Bob was the anchor of World News, and all around me were these families that really deserved the attention," says Lee.

"But it just really seemed to me that all of that goodwill needed to be turned back on all of these kids," she continues.

Since its start 15 years ago, the foundation has distributed more than $80 million in grants, Lee points out.

"That's amazing to think about," she says. "That's not us, that's everybody out there who cares."

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