Monday, April 23, 2007

InnerView: A long journey from Vietnam -- Tim Woodville's career is no typical story

By STEVE BROWN - Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/17/2007 12:13:44 AM PDT

It sounds like a straightforward enough story: a soldier who had his legs blown off in the Vietnam War goes on to have a meaningful career making artificial limbs.
This is what happened to Tim Woodville, but it wasn't that simple. "I never thought, I'm an amputee, so I might as well go into prosthetics."
The first thing he had to do was survive the night in February 1971 when he lost his legs. "I laid on top of a charge that went off. It was night, so I didn't see it. It took my left leg off right then. At the same time, I had a hand grenade thrown at me. It went off. I don't know if it or the charge took off my right leg or even if it was gone right away." Woodville figures that being right on top of the charge helped keep him alive. "If I'd been just 3 feet away I would have been killed."
He said the scenes in John Wayne war movies about injured soldiers falling asleep and never waking up again seem to be accurate. "Your mind stays 'stop,' but your body says 'keep going.' My job that night was to stay alive. But you felt like you could just close your eyes, go to sleep and slip away."
The next thing he had to do was figure out what to do with the rest of his life. "I was going to make the military my career," but the loss of his legs forced him to change his plans.
When he returned to civilian life, there was a long adjustment period. "Obviously, my legs were gone. I was proud of what I had done in Vietnam, but there was no way I could say that at the time and be accepted by my peers."
He said he spent the next few years as "a semi-hermit. I didn't want to socialize with a lot of people." But after he decided to go to college, "I discovered that I could immerse myself in my studies."
At that time, he was not studying prosthetics. He earned a degree in biological sciences from UC Davis, got a teaching credential and taught science for a couple of years in Elk Grove. He then entered a master's degree program in biological sciences at Chico State University. He went into that field because he wanted to become a researcher, but decided against it when he discovered it could be a cutthroat profession.
During this time, he met his wife. "She's been my rock forever. I can't express how much she means to me."
About 20 years ago, he started having anxiety symptoms. "I went to the VA. They told me I had post-traumatic stress syndrome. At first I didn't believe them. I felt I had to suck it up, be a man." But he said over time he came to understand that being in a war is stressful, and you can't always acknowledge it at the time it is happening.
For a while he stayed at home and took care of his two sons while his wife went to school to become a cosmetologist. "I started going a little stir-crazy." That's when he decided to become a technician at a prosthetics business in Redding where he had gone to have his legs worked on. He liked the job so much that he went to UCLA to become a certified prosthetist.
He opened his Chico business, Tim Woodville's Orthotics and Prosthetics, about 15 years ago. What convinced him that this could be his life's work was that it allowed him to work with people — his clients — and his hands. He builds artificial limbs and orthotics braces in a lab at the back of his business. "One of the biggest rewards for me is seeing how clients, their spouses and their offspring realize how life can go on after amputation. I enjoy helping people get back to what they were doing before they lost a limb."
Woodville said he has a few regrets about having lost his legs. "I wish I could have played football with my boys when they were growing up. I like to walk on the beach with my wife. I can do it, but it's hard. I wish I could compete in a triathlon. I can swim and ride a bike, but I can't run."
Despite having lost his legs in the Vietnam War, Woodville still supports the military. "It gave me a sense of accomplishment, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself. It's an honorable profession. And it's physical. I liked that part of it."
Staff writer Steve Brown can be reached at 896-7755 or
In a nutshell
Name: Tim Woodville
Age: 56
Job: owner of Tim Woodville's Orthotics and Prosthetics
Hometown: Born in Alameda, raised in Healdsburg
Family: Wife, Cheryl; sons, Brad, 25, and Doug, 21
Hobbies: Fishing, swimming, weightlifting. "When you have prosthetic limbs, you try to keep your weight stable. It makes a big, big difference."
Words to live by: "When you commit to something, you have to follow through."

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