Unmasking Brain Injury

The mission of Unmasking Brain Injury is to promote awareness of the prevalence of brain injury; to give survivors a voice and the means to educate others of what it’s like to live with a brain injury; to show others that persons living with a disability due to their brain injury are like anyone else, deserving of dignity, respect, compassion and the opportunity to prove their value as citizens in their respective communities.
Blue on my mask signifies hope.  I put “hope” at the top to signify moving forward, progress and improving. I put “red” in the middle/at my eyes for anger (seeing red).  Red signifies my anger.  It then fades into the orange which is frustration. “Orange” signifies frustration.  I feel more frustrated about everything, but mostly having a brain injury, so that is why the biggest section is orange.  I feel more frustrated out of my emotions than anything.  My frustration then leads to anger hence the rising up into the red section for anger. Grey is spread throughout because it is my confusion and affects me everywhere. Before my injury, blue represented “freedom” and “free spirit”; red represented “hazards, cautions and dangers” and Orange represented “outgoing nature”, “active” and “social”. Grey represented my time in the military of being “watchful”, “protective”, “always on alert” but when I came home with my family, I’m more at ease, have more peace ad calm feelings.

Edward B                                                  Date of Injury: July 2012

“Blue on my mask signifies hope.  I put “hope” at the top to signify moving forward, progress and improving. I put “red” in the middle/at my eyes for anger (seeing red).  Red signifies my anger.  It then fades into the orange which is frustration. “Orange” signifies frustration.  I feel more frustrated about everything, but mostly having a brain injury, so that is why the biggest section is orange.  I feel more frustrated out of my emotions than anything.  My frustration then leads to anger hence the rising up into the red section for anger. Grey is spread throughout because it is my confusion and affects me everywhere. Before my injury, blue represented “freedom” and “free spirit”; red represented “hazards, cautions and dangers” and Orange represented “outgoing nature”, “active” and “social”. Grey represented my time in the military of being “watchful”, “protective”, “always on alert” but when I came home with my family, I’m more at ease, have more peace ad calm feelings.



Joelle B                                                     Date of Injury: February 2012

“I served active duty in the army and after discharge I went to pharmacy school and served in the National Guard. After completing my degree in pharmacy, I joined the Army Reserves.  I worked as a pharmacist in the VA.  In 2012 I had a stroke. My recovery has been long and tedious.  I am now medically retired and I am working on adapting new skills to go through life.”


Robert.            Date of Injury: March 2015 & sometime after while still in combat

“Before my TBI I was a sports nut (played everything especially football, basketball, ran track). I was an architectural designer, engineer, construction manager.  I was spontaneous, high energy, funny & fun. Now my life is very slow paced. I look like any other person walking around with scars hidden.  Life to me is like a shattered glass with ? marks at times trying to connect the dots to make sense of things.When you look at the mask on the after side; it shows the broken pieces.  The reflection (mirror) pieces shows the confusion & question mark of where to begin.  It also shows I look like you but not clearly.  Welcome to my world!”


Rebecca B                                    Date of Injury: 11/15/2004

“I served in the military from 1994-2003.  After that I worked with homeless animals and then switched to working with homeless veterans.  I have always wanted to work to help others and I think my work choices have reflected that.  My stroke, I hate it, because it has made it so other people have to help me. I struggle.  One side of the mask shows the “me” I like the world to see.  The organized me.  The other side shows the confused me, the side I am still working on.  Nobody ever gets to see both sides.  It’s too personal.  The inside of the mask is filled with the thoughts inside my head.”


Sonya B.                                               Date of Injury: April 2005

“My mask represents my many different pieces of my emotions, understanding, and frustration that I went through from when I received the TBI until now.  Not a lot was known about TBI’s so in the beginning I thought I was going crazy.  At one point I sore the doctor told me I would be better in a year, however he said you will start feeling better in a year.  After a year I freaked out at him, I wanted him to fix me now! Told him he lied.  I felt very betrayed by the military because they kicked me out. I did my job so I thought they were supposed to take care of me but instead they _ me out. I felt betrayed. My family couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t just snap out of it and go back to the organized, thoughtful, considerate mom I used to be? Why I couldn’t get out of bed. Why I couldn’t think straight, keep a job.  I started drinking because I had a headache every day that was like a hangover every day anyway so what was the difference. My memory was gone, my friends didn’t want to be around me, I felt useless. The military didn’t want me. I had a plan.  I was supposed to retire from the military and go to the FBI.  But no one wanted someone with a TBI.  I couldn’t get a job, my world was crushed.  I had to find the new me. I had to reinvent myself, tell myself I was not stupid. I was injured. I could get better and do things my world would just look different than I planned. I was a single mother with two small children and had no choice but to work it out and fight for what I needed to get better. So with the help of my children I fought. I lost everything, my house, my savings, my family.  So I had no choice to fight! My identity.  My world was turned upside down all because I fought for my country, then I had nothing. Paine very day my wounds were not visible & I was a female it made it even harder. But the world is not fair you more on and find your new normal. Fight for the life you want.“


Alaina B.                                        Date of Injury: July 2015

“I was serving in Afghanistan in 7/2015, I was having trouble sleeping (flashbacks), and I had a stroke while talking to him.  I was wide awake, but my mouth wasn’t moving.  I was talking to them I thought.  I was trapped inside my head.  Later after I realized no one could hear me I didn’t panic until I couldn’t call on the Lord.  My 1st Sgt saw the fear in my eyes.  Then, she did what all good 1st Sergeants do, she looked at me straight in the eyes and said, ‘he already know Sgt Broome, you don’t have to say it out loud’.”


Russell C.                                 Date of Injury: October 24, 2007

“I served from September 1999 to July 2012 in the US Army. After multiple blast injuries and my major injury on October 24, 2007 in Iraq.  The color of my face reflects on my feelings towards my brain injuries and the brown and green show my time in service of this great country.  The purple shows my purple heart and the deep confusion I had after my injuries.  The red shows the rage it has caused me to loose people and things I can never get back and always the confusion I will have.  The orange reflects the constant headaches that I have had.  The green specks show the envy I have for others because they’re not in my head or shoes.”



“Sometimes people only have one side of themselves that they’re willing to keep to themselves and sometimes there is a duality to people that unmasks two sides of you. The first side of me shows the U.S. Marine that is willing to protect, die, and live for his country as a sniper/Infantryman (Tan side).  The other side shows the opposite.. dying, crying because I can never see my family again and my brain cracking due to lack of memory (white side).  No matter what I chose as a profession, what I’ve done, or what happened to me in said profession, I know that I am thankful that I was able to save and help as many people as I could. It cost me some friends who gave their lives for our country, and me dealing with trauma as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, but what I know is that I helped give people back their freedom, and I ultimately gain my Honor that I love and appreciated.”


Andy C                                      Date of Injury: May 2004


“I evolved into hop for the future…by much work! Work on myself emotionally and by physically working out for energy to do healing.  I used sand over my face as I was from a desert town in the Southwest and served in the military in a desert.  Now I have returned to the desert town from which I was born.  The ‘sand’ stays with me. Inside I have grown to be calm and peaceful (inside of mask depicting this) but not without some crashing, breaking waves.”


Seth  C.                                      Date of Injury: September 2007

“I took a MK19 grenade to the upper body.  Lost a piece of brain and found myself in the middle of the ripples in a lot of ponds so my piece is called Ripples of a TBI.  The colors represent the blood and the motion, the road to recovery and the people along the way. Bright on one side and dull on the other. Says there are ripples in the pond that get better in time.”


Norman D.                                     Date of Injury: November 2006

“I suffer from many wounds both internal and external. The mask represents those wounds which try to keep me fenced in…internally which affects me externally.  I’m breaking free from darkness into the light. After the horrors of numerous back to back combat tours and over 200 combat missions in Persia.  I was hit with numerous C-IEDs both dismounted and mounted. I’ve suffered both visible and invisible wounds. They say, “an enemy exposed is an enemy defeated”. If you can see it, you can overcome it. However, my challenge was what I cannot see…the invisible wounds. PTSD, TBI, anxiety, depression, insanity, or (darkness and the Light)! There must be a Balance in the mind, body, and spirit for wholeness to become complete. It begins with knowing God through Jesus Christ, not a religion but a sincere relationship by Faith.  My goal is to embrace Balance with a positive perspective on life by loving God by faith, exercise/diet, and renewing my mind and heart by studying the Bible in which I find: truth, grace, peace, joy, mercy, faith, hope, and love. The greatest is love. People and relationships really matter! Life is about choices and taking accountability and responsibility for our actions small or great. We must embrace Balance (Mind, Body, and Spirit) which represents the total holistic approach to well-being. Balance (Equilibrium) meaning is different to most, in terms of perspective. However, the spiritual and universal truths are well defined. It’s the key to all we do, or not do. Guard your thoughts they become your words. Guard your words they become your actions. Guard your actions they become your habits. Guard your habits they become your character; guard your character they became your Destiny!”


Christopher D                              Date of Injury February 2011

“During my 8 year stint in the Air Force, I was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in my Traumatic Brain Injury.


I have a 7 year old son that keeps my outlook on life and my future shining bright.  With the love and support of my family and friends I am living my best life.”


Bill                                                       Date of Injury: May 2004

“While on active duty I was full of pride.  I had earned my Airborne wings my EIB “Expert Infantry Badge”. I had earned and been promoted to Sargent and was making a good name for myself.  I was extremely active and always on the go.  I loved being in the field training and teaching our young soldiers.  Sitting still was not in me.  I always had to be doing something.

 After my Injury it seemed everything just stopped. It seems every time I get 3 steps ahead I end up getting knocked back 5.  I still feel like I am always on the go but it seems nothing gets accomplished. It seems every door that gets opened leads to longer hallways. Everything seems to be harder but that Infantry blue blood still runs in my veins which means you will never hear the words I can’t, I quit, and I give up.  No matter the road block.  With the help of my team, my friends, and my family I will push forward.


Jimmy                          Date of Injury: Multiple blast injuries from 2005-2007

“Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from combat. Iraq 2005 and 2007.

 Explanation of mask:  The broken gears represent how my cognition/thinking is not the same is now broken. - The wires crossed (red and yellow) and expose represent how things can or do get confusing. - The exposed green wire that is burned represents how I can easily get frustrated. -The melted fuse represents when I lose my temper. - The stitches of the mouth represent my struggles to communicate my emotions. - The rope represents my thoughts of suicide and thoughts of self-harm.  - The camouflage and American flag represent my service. - The broken clock face (green and black) represents loss of time and the struggle of the concept of time.  (How much time has passed or when something happened). - The tears represent my pain both physical and emotional. They represent my struggle with my own emotions and thoughts.”


Pearlette                                  Date of Injury: January 2001

“I really don’t remember when my accident happen.  I am a veteran, I served 10 years in the Army.  I have 1 child his name is Gabriel, he is 9 years old and we live in Texas.”


Georgia                                  Date of Injury: March 2006

“Had surgery at Walter Reed, had brain bleed in cerebellum caused by surgery followed by spinal meningitis caused by contaminated bone.  Now 13 years later I am living in a VA nursing home.  I am left side weak in a wheelchair and still work hard in therapy.  I miss my family very much.  I do go home as often as possible but it is not the same.  I miss driving and most of all my child.

My sight has been affected and I am unable to read more than a word or two.  I only see out of the right side of each eye.  So I really miss reading and being able to write but I am still working on it.  Good luck and best wishes to all.  Georgia”


Whitney H.                                      Date of Injury: unknown

“My mask is a betrayal of where I’ve been in my journey these last couple of years.  From where I started to where I am.  From viewers perspective, the left side starts my journey with my battle to live while in a coma for 4 months and how that’s changed viewers perspective on me.  The left side shows how the coma was a huge piece of my life.  From learning how to eat, talk and function again.  As the eyes go from left to right you can see my journey from coma to wheelchair to walker, where I am now.  Even though I’ve come so far, I’m still in progress to be a better me.  There are infinite possibilities for my future.”


Shawn H.                                 Date of Injury: Between 2003-2004

“Between peace and war there lays a divide.  A divide that blurs out my past and present.  I can’t recall nothing of my past nor what takes place during the moment known as the present.  I live daily, not knowing my past before the divide.  I suffer pain, shakes, blankness and moments where it hurts to think.  I just am.  Emotions aren’t controlled.  I try to get help but no one listens or understands.  I’m yelled at by loved ones, friends, people I don’t know.  I don’t know how to act or remember and so much more.  I am confused… There is a divide…”


Emily H.                            Date of Injury: 2001

“I was a calm and easy to talk to kind of person before my injury.  Now I am still easy to talk to but sometimes I get a little frustrated.  The stars represent my time in the Air Force.  Before the injury I didn’t always wear glasses and I dressed up more.  I have a lot of emotions and I might cry but that doesn’t define me.  I work hard and I am silly.  I like who I am trying to be a positive person.  I’m enjoying helping others and always have.  Enjoy my mask and I hope it brings you a smile”


Lee                                Date of Injury: 2006

“I want my mask to show the pain that brain injuries cause, and everything I have lost due to my injury. My injury was caused from an IED in Iraq years before any symptoms were evident, when the symptoms started it was rapid.  I began losing my short-term memory, I spent months in the hospital and underwent three brain surgeries.  Due to the complications of surgery and loss of motor skills, I lost my sight and became very depressed. I lose some of my memory a little every day, sometimes I can’t remember who I am talking to and can’t see them.  There are parts of my injury that are visible, but many are invisible to others.  The most difficult thing is trying to recap what I’ve done each day and trying to keep going, knowing that I will never return to my old self.  I want my mask to show others the hidden difficulties that aren’t evident to, the challenges that I face, depression, PTSD, memory loss, anxiety and frustration.”


Mike H

Date of Injury: 2001-2008

“This mask tells the story behind my brain injury.  I painted the mask red on the left side of the mask to indicate that the injury affected the left side of my body.  I painted a blue snowboard on the mask to indicate that the injury was the result of a snowboard accident.  The right side of the mask shows the results of my healing.  It is white because my body is showing less signs of handicaps.  I have been practicing a lot of Spanish since the injury and my wife and 2 daughters have been the motivation behind my healing.  I showed this through the heart and number three on the right side of the mask.  I added the two stickers to show that I am a marine.”


Lee J.                                   Date of Injury: 10/2005

“A new Beginning”

Yellow: trials and new beginning

Black: Limitations and scars

Purple: The church, the cross and the Christ

Red: Warrior, blood of Christ

Blue: Contentment through God


Mike K.                                Date of Injury: May 2013

“The storm always wins.

 Can’t speak or see but I am still here.

 The Japanese say that scars are valuable and beautiful.. we shall see.”


Ken K.             

Date of Injury: May 2007

“This mask represents me post war.  Brain injury from a roadside bomb. Lack of focus, recall, and memory issues and an alien to what I once was.

 My life used to be structured. I was focused, intelligent, and unstoppable.  I served in the Marine Corps as a Recon Marine.  I had a break in service and worked as a police officer for 10 years.  I felt the need to once again serve my country, so I resigned from my police job and joined the Army 82nd Airborne.”


Julie K.                                                 Date of Injury: December 2001

Hard to articulate the complexities of a brain injury with blank spaces in my head, trying to remember how to spell certain words & remember details yet foggy-strange because I’m a writer with mismatched brain waves, words read backwards & where I know how to pronounce the words, what starts at beginning & end but what’s in-between? Kinda like life.. sometimes jumbled, stumbling with words, can’t’ get them out fast enough before I forget them & they fall to the ground.  Days like this- art helps me process through and find meaning in the  moment. I began sketching dress designs & ceramics in this & this is my 1st attempt at mask art.  Struggle(d) with words & numbers, couldn’t deal with forms & logic, but I could deal with tones & color, lines & spaces & it be fun to change my perspective. My injury happened 2 weeks before my 24th birthday. Stroke Viral Encephalitis. Heart imbalance. Nerve damage. Trouble with eyes, hearing, so many things happened, spiraled out of control, legs & all- led to autoimmune disease (Lyme, some say MS). So chaotic and dark at first, like a snowstorm coming down. While I was @ the top of my game rain, sleep, snow muddled in this earthen vessel.  This turmoil attacking me, whole memories from my mind, yes, moments, events, time & conversations as if they never happened. Empty space represents this & gray tone, cliff with levels, snow storm coming down, down, down.  Trying to survive & press through moments; hard to mend when doctors shuffling me round like paper & my case still sitting in DC (16 years now). Waiting for change- gain endurance. Hitting rock bottom with bruises blurred in, flashbacks of abuse circulating the air, pressing in, adding weight to it all, smudged my vision, but a jewel is still there…can you see it?

God’s not through with me yet! Doctors thought I’d be a vegetable but I’m still here between the rock & concrete, between the pain & suffering, yes the loss, scattered, set aside, but out of the darkness & depth of it all came light and a new perspective – sitting low in a wheelchair (12.5 years now), I see a different view, eyes widened, (yes bifocals now) but also depth & width adding to my vision, more compassion & wisdom softening the tone. You see now between a rock & hard place, a rose and morning glory vine grew- so winter coming down but spring coming up with something new filling out the scene.

Brain injury, it’s an invisible disease, so don’t judge book by it’s cover. We all have different fingerprints & come out of this a bit differently than others with many colors, forms, shapes & hues.  So pause a moment- look a little deeper (within). P.s. – Hope you enjoy what you see!


Dave L.                                    Date of Injury: June 2004

“The story of my mask describes my daily struggle of living with a brain injury.  Injury before and after.  Sustained a brain injury while deployed to Iraq, was hit by a Mortar.  In and out of several TBI, PTSD treatment facilities.  Fortunately, I have a great support system including my wife, Meaghan and my two kids, Abbey and Aidan.  Treatment centers include Walter Reed Army Hospital, The pathway in California and the Shepard SHARE Program in Atlanta, Ga where I had to go back 3 different times.  And since then I struggle daily with PTSD and TBI symptoms.”


Christopher L.                                  Date of Injury: December 2009

“Joined the Marine corps when I was 20 years old. Trying to keep the family going then once basic training was over with went to Intel School.  Hen after that I was assigned to 1/3 in Hawaii just as my dad before me.  Deployed in November of 2009 then a month later who would have known everything would change.  While doing a debrief I heard a loud explosion and then next I knew I was in my rack and came to and my friend told me what happened.  A LAW misfire when it was accidentally dropped which the back blast blew me back into the wall. 2013 of November I as diagnosed with Epilepsy due to the TBI I received in 2009.  Every day is a new day.  I truly will never know what my mood is going to be.  Like a comedian once said, “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you are!”


Denise M.                                                     Date of Injury: 2011

“When creating the images on this mask I asked myself how do you create confusion, chaos and the new norm on this paper face.  All that came to mind was a scribble upon scribble upon scribble then plunging a pencil through the center of the scribble.  After some time, I realized there is more to it than a negative mess, there is a beautiful mess.

 In the beginning there was the only normal you knew.  The mountains (everyday things) and waters (life) are as they have always been.  Then !*Wham*! that brain injury occurs, like a spectacular black eye to your norm. 

The mountains (everyday things) and waters (life) that surround you are now viewed in a different perspective (new norm).  The eyes that use to see what made sense right in front of you now see a distorted view of things. The new eyes show us the defeat that was and will be defeated and conquered into a new norm.  There will always be the questions and few answers but even those answers have questions.  One of my most challenging questions is: Am I seeing and responding to real reality or my reality? I suppose either way it is a reality.  It is like a little monster of evil heaviness inside your head that is constantly poking at things just enough to create a ripple in the water to create the chaos that you just thought was becoming un-chaosed.  It’s so exhausting at times it takes you to your knees with intense winds to try and keep you down, but you are strong enough to reach out for help. Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to communicate with others, so we muffle our words enough that we don’t or try not to hurt or confuse the folks in the current past norm. 

 If any of this is confusing, I can agree. When writing this, I knew the feelings and thoughts but to put them to words was a challenge.  As I read this now, I see how confusing it might be and that is how it is everyday all day. However, it is a unique beautiful confusion and I am good with that. “


Steve M.

Date of Injury: 2002

“Will I ever get my ‘before’ self back?”


Matthew M.                                 Date of Injury: 2012

“The mask is read from left to right. From my youth I knew I wanted to be in service to my country. I was always a bit of an 'extreme' kid in my hobbies and outlook on life. I sustained multiple injuries throughout my youth and simply accumulated more in my more adult years. The degree of brain injury I suffer isn't a single event, but an accumulation overt time based on life choices. Those choices help define me for who I was, not the resulting brain injury. 

 On the right is the new growth that comes from within. The learning, processing and coping with what is a new reality to me. The tree and leaves express this growth. It's uncertain what fruit I will bear in this latter half of my life, but it is clear that my past will blend into it and be a part odd something new and wonderful.”


Seyward M.                                            Date of Injury: 3/2009

“The puzzle pieces on my mask represents the different pieces of my life before and after my stroke.  Before I had my stroke, soccer was my life. Since I was five years old I played the sport and I also ran cross country in high school.  After graduating I joined the Army and became an operating room specialist for eight years.  I served in Iraq and after I returned, I had a stroke in Texas at Fort Sam Houston due to an AVM.  I did the last two years of my service at Walter Reed as a Wounded Warrior. After I was medically retired from the Army I started riding a recumbent bike completing five Army 10-miler’s as well as soldier rides and biking different trails around my house. I also ride horses at Healing Strides of Virginia trying to become a Paralympics rider. I am part of project healing waters, tying flies (with one hand) once a month and going on fishing trips. I have a service dog named Whitney.  My life may be different after my stroke but I am making the most out of what I have.  As someone once said, “It all depends on you to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to see the full picture.”


Jay M

Date of Injury: 4/2014

“Work past your obstacles.  Don’t let anyone tell you ‘you can’t do it’, you can.  I will one day play my guitar like I used to.  I will drive again.  I will drink a Miller.  I will do things on my own!


William M.

Date of Injury: 11/2011

“Everybody knows and everybody expects to see a happy face.  ‘Have a nice day!’ So we cover the scars and smile.  We text emojis and write 🙂 on emails.  However, on the inside we are not smiling.  We know what we have lost.”


Karl M

“My mask represents my injury and the emotional and physical impact it has had on me.  The top of the mask is an actual MRI image depicting the irradiated metastatic cancer tumor surrounded by edema (or swelling) looking like a fried egg in actual size and location.  The edema in my right frontal cortex next to the motor cortex for the left side of my body, caused me to experience numerous unilateral focal seizures in the entire left half of my body from face muscles to my toes, causing difficulty with every possible bodily function imaginable form speaking to defecating, to walking.  In order to combat this edema and its physical effects, I was prescribed high concentrations of dexamethasone a very strong steroid and four different anti-seizure medications (each with excruciatingly intolerable side effects).

Emotionally, I was depressed, anxious, angry and often extremely irritable and at the very worst times irrational and delusional (represented by the right mask face). If not for the loving support of my daughter (pictured in  my left hemisphere) who while living alone with me acted at times as my caregiver, my crutch and most importantly my bridge back to reality I feel like I would not be able to be happy again (left side face) depicts me feeling a tearful pride as she hugged me on my birthday this year after the worst had passed.“


Timmothy M.                                  Date of Injury: 7/2003

“I was born and raised in Southern California.  My father was German and my mother was Canadian.  My dad convinced me to join the Air Force in 1984.  I retired in 2006.  After retirement my job was a Video Teleconference (VTC) Manager.  Due to service-connected diagnosis in 2013 I went to OHSU in Oregon for a heart valve replacement and due to complications had a stroke resulting in a brain injury.  With the help of my church, family and friends I am adjusting to my new life.  Thankful for Rehab without Walls and my good friend Gwuana Thomas Jr.


Robert O                                              Date of Injury: January 2008

“I served in the military in a foreign country away from family and friends.  There is confusion, stress, and anxiety that manifests while trying to do your job/mission and staying alive in a hostile environment.  This anxiety, stress, and confusion is like my TBI. The skin is broken because my brain got broken.  There are people across the nose to show confusion, not knowing where they want to go.  I feel crowded and lost.  The streaks above the eyes show my clouded memory and vision. On the top there is a soldier walking across the desert to escape the darkness and confusion that comes from suffering a TBI.  The soldier is seeking the light.  Whether it is sunshine or sunset he doesn’t know, but he has to go there alone.”


Chungsan O                                     Date of Injury: September 2010

“It was my 3rd deployment with 2-7 or as you can see my old unit and last unit blue and yellow.  My first incident was 2004 where I was with a unit that was sent to Iraq.  I was in an IED blast and under fire but my Lt saved me, but with neck and hip surgery and spine injury too.  Then I was diagnosed with brain injury with neuro problems.  Only the left side of my body is not functioning correctly.  My wife and my daughter support me.  I am able to live on with the help of Neuro Community Care.  I can have an important lifestyle.”


DJ Ottumatic                               Date of Injury: February 2019

“The blue face is the representation of my water purification MOS background.  The yellow lightning strike on my forehead is the vehicle accident that changed my life forever.  The white cross represents the reality of Christ.  I was awakened to in a coma from the crash that altered my existence greatly.  The entire mask is what people don’t see or understand, when they first see me walking and talking like a person not suffering from brain trauma. 

God is the greatest investor because he invests in people that aren’t worth much to this current world.  I am grateful now every day when God wakes me up! This brain injury is more of a blessing than a curse. Amen!”


Jose P.                                        Date of Injury: March 2006

“My mask is my store but not all of it. It is meant to show you what I cannot say but many already know about me. My brain injury does not define the man I am, it does not define me.

 My values have never changed if anything they have become more ingrained within me and have helped me to push through the changes my body has had to go through. My family has struck by my side and the loyalty we have always had has only become stronger. They are my core and give me strength when I am frustrated.  Yes, there are times now that I am frustrated, but my perseverance has helped me to push through. My faith guides me when I am angry and reminds me to never give up. I have always believed in Honor and through my time with the military and with my civilian job I have always hoped that with good leadership I have passed along the meaning of that and instilled that value in others, including my family.  It takes two halves to make a whole, there is always a good to a bad and a happy to a sad. It’s all in the balance, and through my life I always believed that with every negative comes a positive.  My mask shows both sides, my mask shows that there can be balance, and I will always push through with these things to keep that balance.”


Timothy P.

My story, when was that, when did it happen? The confusion continues everyday while I try to mask over this 'story'. It’s a story that I've finally understood that won't go away. it’s a part of me, hiding behind the mask waiting for the moment to strike like a lightning bolt bringing the past back to me, and me, with no choice to stop it, because it is an unknown presence of a reality I lived once and will continue to live every day of my life with the tweaks arriving like I mentioned, a lightning bolt breaking open the past that I tried for so many years to loose.

And there it is again, Jimmy this time.  His dad pounding on my chest wanting to know the question, you know it, that question of “why”, why is my son dead, someone tell me something. Or the little boy who asks of me, “he wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend, who will be my best friend now?”

Today the pounding is in my head and deep in my spirit, how could I have brought Jimmy back or for that matter the 108 dead warriors, sons and daughters, fathers, mothers whom I saw a dead, lifeless body yet having some semblance of being there, haunted with their own question of “what happened to me”.

Each day I try to live normal, but as the mask portrays there is “two” within me.  The side I try to live and call normal, the that hidden taunting of pain that brings back yesterday with the lifeless faces, bodies unrecognizable for a family to see one last time.  They have been cheated because there is no Jimmy to be seen again, only a memory that haunts both family and me, a caregiver with o answers for myself or others.  Today is just today with the hollow eye looking into my soul for answers…but nothing come to bring continuous “peace” to a soul.

PopeD_Mask Pic

Deborah P.

Date of Injury: May 2004/March 2005

“Many times on convoys we were hit by IED’s.  Thrown forward, getting back in a fighting position, we never thought that of damaging our head.  My picture is the confusion, anger, pain, headaches, loss of ADL’s, slurred speech and vision, ringing of the ears, tears shed from your shortcomings”


Ralph P.

“The divided face of my mask shows the dual nature of my feelings. The camo side shows that I was and I am still a soldier at heart but am not able to do the things I once did.

 The blue and gold side represents my family and the man that I am struggling to become.

 My cluttered thoughts and feelings of PTSD, anxiety, and depression are represented by the window into my mind.”


Trooper R.

"Sustained a brain injury in the line of duty"


Leslie R.                                                 Date of Injury: 1998 & 2003

“TBI: Car accident in 1998 and later during military combat operations, 2003, I developed a neurological disorder that exasperated/ worsened my previous brain damage.

 My mask: The halo represents the power and glory of the Lord.  It is always present to strengthen & protect me.  The question mark represents my confusion and concern about my future.  I don’t know what’s going on? How to do things? Why do I think so slowly? Who is and will be there for me? The face sparkles because despite it all, I am still me and will shine through my situations.”


Edwin R.                                              Date of Injury: 12/2013

“A Man Coming out of Darkness.”

 “Yellow stars of brightness, red and blue bringing color out of brain injury.  Blue star -> hit in the head, red is the pain and blood, yellow stars coming back from brain injury and stars coming together.  Glitter is body transforming from brain injury.


Jose R.                                             Date of Injury: September 2010

“I was in the US Army, was on my third deployment to Afghanistan.  Was with 4th ID.  I was on PSD (personal security detail) and I was driving when a suicide driver drove up next to me and blew himself up.  I was badly injured.  The red and faded skull represents my injury and red faded is how my life is now.  I can’t do things I used to do but I am the biggest Rangers fan in Major League Baseball”


Bill S.                         Date of Injury: Multiple dates 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011

“I have been deployed many times.  I have received many injuries to my head, 3 BIED’s and 2 IED’s. I didn’t think it was an issue, however it has become one.  The mask represents the calm water below where life is slow, smooth and sweet.  The top represents the struggle between trying to have a calm, easy life and the top right is the anger that I have a difficult time controlling.  I view myself like the Hulk.  I sometimes feel calm and collected and able.  Then something that is not fitting right makes me angry and I transform into the hulk.  I have stable security as ‘Dr. Banner’ on occasions, then transform and I feel so powerful and strong like I can take on the world.  Even though I am just physically 50% that energy makes it go away and I can’t do anything.

I am ashamed to say I feel safer in combat then I do surrounded by my family.  I love them dearly.  I would love to volunteer to help other vets see or get some sort of semblance of a life.”


Jeffrey S

Date of Injury: 1/2014

“Keep your head up"



Travis S.

Date of Injury: June 2007

“Over the 11 months I spent deployed with the army’s 82nd airborne division we lost 22 men to gunfire or blasts, represented by the green on my mask”


Kevin S.                                           Date of Injury: October 2007

“While serving in the US Army and being deployed in Iraq, I suffered a traumatic brain injury due to a mortar impacting less than 5 meters from me.  As a result of my injury, these are words that describe how my life has been affected.  My mask is colored red, white and blue to symbolize me being an American Warrior. Because of my Christian faith and my family, I have been finding my strength to persevere through the effects of my injury.


Mikey S.

Date of Injury: 7/2007

“The description f the black and white mask is because I feel everytime I make progress I end up falling back with having more seizures.  It’s an endless battle that I have”


Tad S.

“All of the strikes of color on the in/outside represent the anxiety, confusion, anger and guilt I feel at times all throughout my body.

The zip ties and cuts represent the excruciating headaches I get to the point that I cannot even swallow

The tan areas are the calmness that my wife Robyn helps me to feel.

The clear coating represents the mysterious glazed over/numb feeling that comes over me.”


Natalie V.               

Date of Injury: Mortar Blast Injury in Iraq 08/2005 and 03/2009

“Prior to my injury I was a successful Soldier and Leader in the U.S. Army until one day, due to the effects of a TBI, I was left with short term memory problems, seizures, severe migraines, cognitive disorder, balance, and eye problems and PTSD.

My mask represents a permanent scar of who I am today after my TBI and what I live with now on a daily basis.

The left side represents my military service which I lived and breathed every day for over 21 years.  It was my calling, my passion, my love, my life. It also represents the Soldier I still am and will always be.
The right side of my mask represents my proud patriotism to this country and what it stands for.

The scar across the middle represents the wounds I received from the TBI and how it took away my military career and the ability to continue to serve my country.
The upper part of my mask shows some of my invisible wounds that I battle with daily.

The inside of my mask is a blank white canvas and represents hope. I hope I can fill it with good memories as I recover and live my life with my supportive and loving husband.”


   Loving                                               Date of Injury: 8/2008

“I started life as an achiever and now I am building my way with help.  I painted it lilac for it means innocence like the expectation of a child of something new.  The cross between my eyes and my spiritual center.  The picture of my memories that will stay but now healing the roses which are the most beautiful flower but have stings.  The butterfly which means the soul.  The owl which means wisdom.  What must be attained from the gems of life that we are looking for meaning, knowledge, understanding.  The button to fasten myself to true life.  My eyes colored wide open because I can now see.  And the note that my home is where my story begins.  I enclosed my stone, hope you like it. Loving

P.S. Rainbow means somewhere over the rainbow like the song.”

Kimberly W.                                            Date of Injury: 8/2008  “My brain injury occurred a hot summer night when I was deployed to C.O.B Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq.  I was coming from the MWR with my Battle Buddy in the Humvee. We had just got to the parking lot of her LSA and a mortar came over the hesco barrier of the front gate which was across from the LSA.   About my mask:  My favorite color is purple.  It soothes and relaxes me. My journey has been a challenge and I often get confused and thrown off, hence the lightning bolt down the middle. Because sometimes living with this injury like the strike of a lightning bolt my day can change. The black butterfly because they have their own built in self dense mechanism and they are rare and beautiful. “

Kimberly W.                                            Date of Injury: 8/2008

“My brain injury occurred a hot summer night when I was deployed to C.O.B Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq.  I was coming from the MWR with my Battle Buddy in the Humvee. We had just got to the parking lot of her LSA and a mortar came over the hesco barrier of the front gate which was across from the LSA.

 About my mask:

My favorite color is purple.  It soothes and relaxes me. My journey has been a challenge and I often get confused and thrown off, hence the lightning bolt down the middle. Because sometimes living with this injury like the strike of a lightning bolt my day can change. The black butterfly because they have their own built in self dense mechanism and they are rare and beautiful. “