ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, 62, is sharing powerful words of wisdom for caregivers after her husband Al Roker’s recent life-threatening health crisis.
The Today show anchor, 68, was in a “very, very critical” state, Roberts says, and she describes the situation as “one of the most exhausting and difficult things I ever had to cope with.” Thankfully, Roker is on the road to recovery.
Roker’s health issues began in November when he was awakened by sharp stomach pains. Tests revealed he had blood clots in his lungs that may have formed due to his September bout with COVID-19. While he was being treated for the clots, doctors determined Roker was bleeding internally. To find the source of the internal bleeding, doctors performed surgery and discovered a perforation in his duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. During subsequent surgeries, Roker’s colon was resectioned and his gall bladder was removed. Roker returned to the Today show in January.
In a recent interview, speaking from the streets of New York City, where she was enjoying the post-endorphin rush from a just-finished run, Roberts was eager to share what she learned from the ordeal and what caregivers need to know for both the patient’s recovery and their own personal survival.
- How is Al’s health?
- How was it for you as the spouse of someone dealing with a health crisis?
- How does a health event like that change your life?
- What advice would you give to other spouses and caregivers after going through your own family’s health crisis?
- Al Roker’s Candid Health Journey
- Al Roker’s Most Candid Quotes About His Health Journey
- FAQs About Al Roker’s Health
How is Al’s health?
Thankfully, he is doing so much better, and he is making a recovery. So many people have reached out. The goodwill has been just overwhelming for us, and he’s doing really well. I’m so grateful to say that he’s on his way.
How was it for you as the spouse of someone dealing with a health crisis?
It’s one of the most exhausting and difficult things I ever had to cope with, and I pray I never have to again.
On the other hand, you learn you can step up and do whatever you need to do. That whole fight-or-flight [response] is there for protecting your family. I never thought I would be capable of that — running back and forth to the hospital and taking care of my family without falling apart — but you do what you have to do to help somebody in your life and restore them. It’s very, very difficult.
My whole family, after the crisis subsided, we almost collapsed. We didn’t realize the adrenaline rush of running and gunning every day to look after him. I didn’t appreciate how tough it was until the fog had started to clear and the dust was starting to settle. That’s when I realized how hard it was.
Get it done, get him well, take care of him: That was my goal.
How does a health event like that change your life?
I said to Al last night, “We’re getting to be pretty boring.” We had to accept being bored for a while. The doctor said that’s good, because boring means status quo. So we haven’t really been going out as much as we used to, mostly because we sort of fell into this rhythm — of being at home, checking in with each other, especially once he went back to work and I really jumped back into work. I think we are really holding tight to each other. I think we’re valuing our time with each other a lot more.
Deborah Roberts’ tips for caregivers in a crisis
- Assert yourself.
- Ask doctors and nurses questions.
- Be part of the care: Help guide doctors and nurses.
- Take care of yourself.
- Draw from your support network: friends, family, your church.
We’re just content to go out to an early dinner, the two of us, chat a little bit, and get home and go to bed early. For a while there, Al had to go to bed early. He was so exhausted, his body was so depleted, that he was going to bed every night at, let’s say, 7:30 p.m. We stay up a little past that now, but we fell into this very quiet, soothing, loving rhythm of just spending time with each other, checking in, having conversations about life and how we feel.
That’s been one little blessing that’s come out of this. I think we pulled each other close to each other.
What advice would you give to other spouses and caregivers after going through your own family’s health crisis?
First of all, I would say what people said to me: Not only do you need to focus on your loved one, you’ve got to advocate. I never understood when I had heard people say how advocacy is key in a health crisis. I never realized. I thought I knew what it was all about — being there and taking notes and helping. No. When somebody is going through a crisis, you have got to pay attention, ask the doctors questions. You kind of even have to problem solve sometimes, because oftentimes you’re talking about medicine, the history of the person. You have to really jump in and assert yourself and be annoying.
I did all that, and I helped brainstorm things with Al on how to treat Al: ‘And by the way, did you know he had this and that prior to this?’ I helped answer questions and also in some ways guide the care he was getting. I certainly wanted to make sure he was being looked at as a human being and not just as a case.
I was fortunate that ABC allowed me to be able to take generous amounts of time away just to look after him. But even if you can’t, you’re just in and out, make yourself a presence with doctors and the nurses. Nurses are so vital; they really care for the day-to-day with the patients.
So, I would say: Really get in there and roll up your sleeves and be part of the care.
Also, take care of yourself. I remember my brother, and a couple other people when they realized how intense this was, they kept saying to me, “What are you doing for you?” I felt so selfish to even think about me: Are you kidding me? This is all about him. We’re just trying to make sure he makes it, because he truly was in a very, very critical state.
However, they were right, and I did find moments where in the morning before I would come see him, I would go for a run around the loop in the park, and then in my workout clothes I would come straight to the hospital. Or sometimes I would just jog down to the hospital and see him. So I gave myself the benefit of a little bit of care and being outside and thinking, clearing my head and then going to check on him.
I think that’s the reason I was able to sustain and take care of myself. It was a real hamster wheel, but I tried to take care of myself along the way. And draw from your support network. You’ve got to have friends, family, your church or any kind of spiritual group you have in your life. You’ve got to draw from those people because when you’re tired, you just feel sort of helpless. Those folks can lift you up.
Deborah Roberts’ new book, Lessons Learned and Cherished: The Teacher Who Changed My Life, showcases lessons learned from educators and is in stores now.
Al Roker’s Candid Health Journey
Al Roker doesn’t shy away from talking about his health journey.
Since getting his gastric bypass surgery in 2002, the Today show anchor and meteorologist has shared his story with viewers on the show and on social media.
“It’s still a struggle but I’m never going back,” he wrote on Instagram as he marked the 20th anniversary of his surgery. “I have setbacks and struggle every day, but I never forget how far I’ve come.”
In addition to giving glimpses of his diet and exercise routines online, Roker has also candidly shared his health scares as well. In November 2020, Roker revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis and has since used his platform to encourage people to get tested.
Near 2022’s end, Roker dealt with another medical issue as he was taken to the hospital for blood clots in his leg and lungs, which led to him missing his first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 27 years. Though he was released shortly after, he returned to the hospital within 24 hours.
“Thank you to all the wonderful friends and family who have reached out,” his daughter Leila wrote on social media. “We really appreciate it.”
In early May 2023, Roker said he underwent another knee surgery, one that he said has “been the toughest one yet.” On May 30, he returned to the Today show for his first show since undergoing the procedure.
Al Roker’s Most Candid Quotes About His Health Journey
Read ahead for Roker’s most candid quotes about his health journey.
December 2012: Al Roker opens up about getting his bypass surgery
In an interview with Parade, Roker opened up about his longtime struggle with weight and how his father convinced him to get his bypass surgery.
“After my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, he was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and I would go in every day. We’d talk and joke, and then one day he got serious and said, ‘Look, we both know I’m not going to be here to help you with my grandkids, so you gotta promise you’re going to lose weight.’ Seven days later he was gone,” he recalled. “A few weeks afterward, [Deborah and I] found out we were pregnant with our son Nicky. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to do something.'”
October 2018: Al Roker opens up about his carpal tunnel surgery
In October 2018, Roker underwent an emergency carpal tunnel surgery to fix a thumb issue that came up during rehearsals for his Broadway debut in Waitress, about which he later opened up on Today.
“It had just gotten progressively worse to the point where Thursday, I lost use of my thumb during rehearsals,” he revealed. Despite his surgery, he didn’t let that stop him from making his Broadway debut.
“That’s not stopping me,” Roker declared, though, he joked, “they are putting an Ace bandage around my mouth, because they’ve heard my singing.”
March 2019: Al Roker opens up about losing weight with the keto diet
As Roker prioritized his health, he got really into the keto diet in 2019, which helped him lose 40 lbs. In response to some criticism about the diet from celebs, Roker explained his reasoning for sticking to it on Today.
“My point is, what works for you, works for you,” he said. “There’s science on both sides that says it’s not a great idea and science that says it is a good idea. I think it’s up to people — with their doctor, with their medical professional — [to make their own decision].”
FAQs About Al Roker’s Health
What health issues has Al Roker faced?
Al Roker has faced several health issues including a battle with obesity, which led to gastric bypass surgery in 2002, a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2020, and more recently, blood clots in his leg and lungs in 2022, followed by knee surgery in 2023.
How has Al Roker’s health journey impacted his life?
Al Roker’s health journey has been transformative, leading him to make significant lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. It has also made him an advocate for health awareness, encouraging others to get regular check-ups and screenings.
What advice does Deborah Roberts have for caregivers?
Deborah Roberts advises caregivers to assert themselves in the care process, ask questions, be part of the care team, take care of themselves, and draw from their support network.
How did Al Roker and his family cope with his health crisis?
Al Roker and his family coped with his health crisis by staying close to each other, valuing their time together, and focusing on recovery. They also relied on the support of friends, family, and their faith community.
What has Al Roker said about his weight loss journey?
Al Roker has been open about his weight loss journey, sharing that it is a daily struggle but one he is committed to for his health. He has also discussed his experience with the keto diet, which helped him lose 40 lbs.