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A special event that lives up to its name

Newsman, Marine share parallel stories of war and recovery

"That was pretty special, wasn't it?" said a dentist coming out of San Antonio's Alamodome on the morning of Oct. 18.

His was more an observation than a question, but it was on the mark. The second and final installment of the ADA's General Sessions and Distinguished Speaker Series at the Association's 149th Annual Session had just ended. And it had been a heart-rending experience for all who witnessed it.

Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products, the program centered on the contributions and sacrifices of the U.S. Armed Forces, including dentists in the Federal Dental Services.

As the Army Medical Command Brass Quintet, clad in camouflaged fatigues, entertained, dentists and guests filtered into the arena. They had come to hear newsman Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, also a journalist, tell the compelling story of Bob's difficult recovery from traumatic brain injury, TBI.

On Jan. 29, 2006, just 27 days after being named co-anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight," Bob Woodruff was nearly killed on assignment in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded and ripped into the left side of his skull.

After more than 15 operations and multiple dental surgeries, Mr. Woodruff still struggles with memory loss and word recall—a disorder known as expressive asphasia.

Bob and Lee, a contributing editor to ABC's "Good Morning, America," have four young children—Lee was at Disneyworld with the kids when she got the news of her husband's injury. In 2007, the couple co-authored a book about Bob's recovery and their family's ordeal: "Surviving Together: A Personal Journey."

The Woodruff's story of survival was the centerpiece of the morning program. But another, equally compelling story of sacrifice and painful recovery captured the hearts of all who heard it.

Early in the program, incoming ADA President John S. Findley introduced a remarkable, ADA-produced video about Jason Poole, a young Marine who, like Bob Woodruff, is recovering from TBI.

Jason, who turns 26 this month, had moved with his family to Northern California from his birthplace of Bristol, England, when he was 13 years old. At 17, he persuaded his father to let him join the Marine Corps.

On June 30, 2004, Jason was on patrol near the Iraqi-Syrian border when a homemade bomb—an improvised explosive device, or IED—exploded, killing three of his companions outright and leaving Jason near death.

Along with the brain injury, much of the left side of his face had been mangled, and his body was riddled with shrapnel. His left temporomandibular joint had been destroyed. He was blind in his left eye and deaf in his left ear. He'd been held in a drug-induced coma for two months and, in time, would endure about 20 operations, including orthognathic surgeries and orthodontic procedures. And his treatment continues.

Joining the physicians providing Jason's care is a dental team with the Department of Veterans Affairs out of Palo Alto, Calif. Dr. Tim Verceles, a general dentist, coordinates Jason's dental and orofacial treatments, aided by Drs. Larry Morrill, an orthodontist, and Sabine Girod, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Dr. Girod noted in the video that she had to "artificially break" Jason's jaw "in order to put the teeth back together again." Dr. Morrill said he expected to remove the young Marine's braces "within the next three to four months," though, after that, Jason likely will need implants and use retainers "for a number of years."

Late in the video, Jason's twin sister, Lisa, captured the meaning of her brother's ordeal. She said the moral of his story was "never give up hope." Jason himself appeared again and vowed that his recovery—and his life— would be successful.

As the video ended, Dr. Findley stunned the crowd—already overwhelmed by what they'd seen—by inviting someone to join him on stage. It was Jason Poole, understandably nervous before a crowd of thousands. Jason thanked everyone for their support and good wishes, and flashed a heartening thumbs-up sign of hope and appreciation.

It turned out that, on their parallel paths to recovery, Jason and Bob Woodruff had met.  Jason knew Lee as well. As the Woodruff's came to the stage, they greeted the young warrior and called to him often during their presentation.

As the dentist leaving the Alamodome later that morning aptly observed, it was all "pretty special" indeed.