one subject close to her heart what does she want to emphasize? people with disabilities.
Her eldest son Jeffrey Hunt was born with what she called a “very mild” case of spina bifida. What was supposed to be routine surgery when he was a teenager left him in a wheelchair and in need of full-time care. It was life-changing for Jeffrey and his entire family.
Jeffrey, now 41, lives in a group home in Maryland and says the love and support of his family have brought him to where he is today. “His parents stayed with me every day after his injury,” he wrote in an email. “They told me I could succeed with my disability. I have been successful so far.”
It’s one thing to report kitchen table problems that affect people, and it’s one thing to live people.As a mother, Woodruff is sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and their caregivers. As a Washington reporter, she has a deep understanding of what politicians and policymakers can do to help them.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent and longtime friend and colleague, said, “She has become dedicated to advancing the needs of those with these challenges in the healthcare system. I was there,” he said. “I think she’s more sensitive. She’s always been empathetic, but this inevitably changed her.”
“Before Jeff’s injury, I thought I was sensitive and caring,” says Woodruff. “But I could see there was a whole other level of what he was going through, and it had a huge impact on me.” I belonged to this community I didn’t know I was going to be in, and none of us wanted to be there.”
Woodruff, 76, was a senior in high school when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She was fascinated by politics and what it could do to change people’s lives, and spent two summers in Washington as a Congressional intern. “I remember thinking, ‘This is a place where important things are happening,’ people are doing important things, and I was just fascinated,” she says. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in Political Science. She was the first in her extended family to attend college.
Lacking confidence in her writing skills, she thought broadcast journalism might be a better fit. Her passion and ambition led her to a job interview at a train station in Atlanta. Her looks earned her a job as a weather girl, she admitted.
She later covered local politics and Governor Jimmy Carter, got a job at NBC News in Washington, and became one of the few women to cover the presidential campaign. There she met The Wall Street Journal correspondent Al Hunt, who remembers being captivated by her “her leggy blonde.” The two she married in 1980 and has been her couple of powers in Washington for 40 years.
Before Geoffrey was born In 1981, she discovered he had spina bifida. This is a medical condition caused by the inability of the spinal cord to close completely during pregnancy. Complications include weakness of leg muscles, incontinence, and fluid in the brain.
The couple saw this as a challenge, but were determined to give Jeffrey a traditional childhood — and for the most part, they did. was. They had another son and adopted his daughter. They hosted an annual roast of politicians and journalists in Washington to raise funds for spina bifida research and public awareness.
In 1998, when Jeffrey was 16, his doctor recommended surgery to replace the shunt. This shunt was inserted by Jeffrey when he was a baby to drain excess fluid in his brain. The night before he was joking with his friends. The next day he fell into a coma.
Woodruff and her husband sent their son to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, where he spent the next four months. Which doctor saved Jeffrey’s life? Ben Carson, then a groundbreaking pediatric neurosurgeon — decades before he ran for president and served in the Trump administration. (In an email, Carson called Woodruff “a very caring person” and “news I’ve ever met him. He’s one of the nicest people in the world of media.” .)
Jeffrey was unable to walk and had limited movement, vision, and speech. As her mother, Woodruff went into survival mode.What she didn’t realize until much later was that she was never grieving—she was with her son for the life he could have lived.
“We were trying very hard to stabilize everything so that Jeffrey could get good treatment and good education to get him back to where he was before his injury,” she recalls. “We’re focused on making everything as normal as possible, so we couldn’t be sad because he’s still there. He’s alive, right? He’s still Jeff, but he’s changed.” And there’s a mourning process that we didn’t go through.”
Woodruff says he was “devastated” by it all. “I mean, it’s not even justice. I remember her crying every day for two years after that incident.” there is a possibility When you think of what she was. “He’s an amazing person. He’s an amazing human being. He’s so full of life and spirit. And he could have lived a different life.”
All of this could derail her career. Woodruff, by then on CNN, had been given all the time off she needed, but she was overwhelmed and considered quitting her job. How do you move on when life breaks your heart?
She recalls confiding in one of Jeffrey’s doctors that quitting smoking would not cure her son. “All you need to do is be the best person you can be, be the best mother you can be, and support your family in terms of being mentally and physically healthy. Geoffrey doesn’t need a dismembered and miserable mother, he needs a mom who can put one foot forward.”
As parents, she and Al were fortunate enough to have the flexibility and financial resources to give Jeffrey whatever he needed.
“I can understand how difficult and costly serious health problems can be,” says Al. “It pisses me off when politicians talk about how good the current healthcare delivery system is. They’ve never gone through hell that they can’t afford the best care.”
He and Woodruff argue that politicians such as Bob Dole, John McCain, Tom Harkin, and Ted Kennedy advocated for the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and mandate public accommodations. I admit that I fought for the law. According to him, Obamacare has helped millions of families.
Jeffrey’s disability “didn’t change the way I looked at politics,” Al says.
Their experience also deepened their understanding of how healthcare and disability are represented in the media. “Over the years I have gotten to know journalists who cover people with disabilities, and frankly I realize how underreported it is,” he said. Woodruff says. “Certainly there are many groups drumming for cancer and heart disease and COVID-19. They all deserve it. They all matter.”
Disability coverage is complicated by the fact that it can occur for so many reasons, including genetic conditions, illness, accidents, and war injuries. “With so many different organizations and people defending it, it was difficult to come together and make her one case,” she says. “It pits one good reason against another.”
Judy Woodruff: Jim Lehrer was my best friend and hero of our time
Woodruff didn’t think health care should become a full-time job, but she’s grown more accustomed to the lack of funding for people with disabilities. I was aware enough to say, ‘Should I do an interview or pay attention to the debate over the vote?'”
She partnered with the Spina Bifida Society to raise visibility and funding for research and treatment. Jeffrey often attended her at conferences on the subject. After his surgery, her outreach expanded to the wider community of people with disabilities and their caregivers.
There are also smaller, more personal acts. “Judy does it very quietly,” Mitchell says. A few years ago, she was visiting the Woodruff home when her young mother arrived. Her baby has spina bifida and Woodruff offered to spend one-on-one time answering questions. “Judy and Al turned a family tragedy into a triumph for the human spirit.”
Jeffrey graduated from high school and college with the help of a series of full-time aides. He lives in his home with a private group of Target Community and Educational Services, an affiliated program of his McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He spends weekends with his parents and attends church every Sunday.
As part of the college’s vocational program, he has a part-time job hosting students and faculty at the McDaniel Athletic Center. He is a big fan of his school football teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Wizards. He loves the sport, discovered skiing when he was four years old, and travels to Vail, Colorado for an adaptive skiing program.
his other love? News — No surprise as the son of two journalists. He’s definitely his mother’s biggest fan. they talk every day He keeps a close eye on her current affairs and constantly sends her questions she should ask.
“I watch her show every night and call her later,” he wrote. “After we discussed the program, she asked me if she knew how much she loved me. She is serious at work but very funny at home. She makes me laugh a lot. Like a great “Godfather” imitation. ”
“He’s doing very well,” says Woodruff. Her son likes where he lives and he makes a lot of friends. She believes that is difficult for people with disabilities, which are often defined by medical conditions. “People just treat you differently,” she says. “And that’s the part that really bothers me.”
She adds: He could have been a very bitter person because of what happened. However, he has a very positive outlook. ”
Over the next two years, Woodruff said, he plans to increase the segment on disability in America, with a particular interest in the lack of resources for adults with disabilities. This is an issue that cuts across politics, demographics and partisanship. She brings her own personal experience to her article and hopes she can help restore the country’s broken trust in the media.
“We have to walk a fine line between being hearty, caring and human, and understanding that there is work to be done,” she says. So I think I’m asking the public to get it right, most of us are trying to do the right thing, we’re trying to get the story right.”