Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Air Force vet's dream is medical school; USF's new center could help him get there

University of South Florida student Ed Woodward, 37, gets ready for classes Tuesday at his St. Petersburg home. Woodward, who had a stroke while in the military, started a master’s degree program in January and hopes to become a doctor. 


University of South Florida student Ed Woodward, 37, gets ready for classes Tuesday at his St. Petersburg home. Woodward, who had a stroke while in the military, started a master’s degree program in January and hopes to become a doctor. 


Back in 2006, Ed Woodward was living his dream, training to be an Air Force fighter pilot.

A half-dozen years later, he's living another dream: aspiring doctor with plans of serving veterans like himself who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Today, the University of South Florida in Tampa dedicates its new Veterans Achievement Center, a 3,000-square-foot space where students with unique perspectives and challenges can meet and study.

Woodward, who will be at the ceremony, hopes his story will inspire other veterans making the transition from the military to the classroom.

"I'd also tell them, reaching out for help doesn't mean you're weak," he said. In college, he's found, seeking guidance is not only encouraged, it's expected. "It can set you off in a direction you can be just as proud of.

"Now my education is a beacon of hope in my life, helping me go in a positive direction."


Woodward was training in Oregon in 2006, just five flights away from being able to pilot an F-15 on military missions.

Then one day, the 31-year-old developed a terrible headache, the worst pain he had ever experienced. Yet he ignored it.

"I knew I would be grounded,'' he said. "They take you out of the plane the minute they know anything is wrong."

A couple of days later, he was riding in a car when he had a seizure and lost consciousness. Doctors discovered that Woodward had a blood clot in his brain and was bleeding from another tiny cerebral blood vessel. They told him several factors had probably contributed to the stroke.

They diagnosed a blood clotting disorder that Woodward had never known about. Plus, the g-forces he endured in a high-speed training flight were powerful enough to disturb normal blood flow in the brain, doctors said.

That conclusion is still being debated; the outcome will determine which Veterans Affairs benefits he receives.

Woodward wanted to return to flying. But even a year later, he just wasn't as quick mentally. He couldn't summon up words that once had come easily to him. Migraine headaches were severe and frequent.

Woodward reluctantly retired from the military in 2008 and returned to his native St. Petersburg, hoping to find a job.

Woodward spoke to a relative, who advised him to "go finish what your younger brother started."


Woodward and his twin brother, Gene, younger by 40 minutes, were out celebrating the conclusion of Gene's first year of medical school at the University of South Florida in early June 2000. Their car was hit by a drunk driver on Interstate 275, killing Gene.

Woodward liked the idea of medical school but knew he'd need preparation. He won a Tillman Foundation Scholarship and started a master's degree program in medical sciences in January. He plans to apply to USF Health's Morsani College of Medicine next year.

Woodward, now 37, is married and has a 5-year-old son. He still works to overcome the lingering effects of the stroke, including occasional severe headaches.

Woodward sees the new center as "a place where we can network and support each other and maybe help each other with our classes.''

Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veterans Services at USF, said that a returning veteran starting college often has a tough time relating to students fresh out of high school.

Veterans "really needed a place to go and just talk, hang out and share experiences, struggles and strategies for dealing with campus life and classes," he said.

Charitable donations helped outfit the center with new furniture, a wide-screen TV, a computer lab, a conference room, a quiet study room and a dining area. The walls feature murals depicting historic uniforms from all branches of the military.

USF's 1,700 veteran scholars range in age from 23 to almost 60.

At the new center, "you'll be able to see how guys with injuries have overcome their deficits,'' Woodward said. "I will be able to let them know how I overcame difficulties from a traumatic brain injury.

"I may be able to help other guys find direction.''

Contact Irene Maher at

Fast facts

Know the signs of a stroke

Stroke is rare in young adults but, as Ed Woodward's case shows, not unheard of. The sooner you get help for a stroke, the better your chances of a full recovery. If you or someone nearby has any of the following symptoms, call 911:

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.

Source: National Stroke Association

If you go

The Veterans Achievement Center in the John and Grace Allen Building on USF's Tampa campus will be formally opened at noon today in a ceremony hosted by USF president Judy Genshaft with military, community and campus dignitaries.

Air Force vet's dream is medical school; USF's new center could help him get there 08/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 1:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]