The Masks


Name: Bobby T

City: Canton

Brain Injury: Head trauma when a steel pipe load on his work truck broke loose.

Explanation of Mask: I’m sort of in a limbo with only a small opening in my throat and 2 caved in areas on my head on the right side. The mouth represents equal “smile” and “frown” times of happiness and sadness. The small nasal openings show my small airways. The arrows on my forehead show my angry times and happy times. The orange question marks show the things I can’t remember. The purple represents lightening up to the blue cloud and yellow sun, which wait for me in heaven when life is over and the next adventure begins. The brown and black stripes around the eyes represent the hidden flaws that people can’t see inside of me. 

Name: Deja S.

City: Chicago

Brain Injury: Asthma attack

Explanation of Mask: Short term memory.  The dark space on my mask is for my memory loss.

Name: Michael 

City: Chicago

Brain Injury: Gunshot to the head

Explanation of Mask: The emotions tell how I feel on the inside and the outside.  Sometimes I want to cry and sometimes just forget the world and be lost in my mind and when I get lost in my mind I can get real mad and furious.  I got a kind heart but I let my mind hold me back in this world.

Name: Peter      City: McCook

Brain Injury: Tumor

Explanation of mask: When I think about my brain, I feel happy it’s healed by now.  I laugh a lot.  I decided to make the mask green and yellow because I like art, I dream a lot, I think hard.

Name: Howard

City: Rock Island

Brain Injury: Car accident on the 4th of November 2015 I was hit by a car. I had brain damage also I hurt my rib

Explanation of Mask: My mask means the most to me. I have never done a mask of this altitude, fun wright. Let me tell you what my mask mean to me, I put the Thunderbolt on the forehead for luck of the Lord; the sign on the forehead is a peace sign for us all on earth. The dollar sign means it represents I’m fabulous, the star represents I’m dynamic. The butterfly represents life is easy. I’m a happy person and that’s it.

Name: William

City: Chicago

Brain injury: Stroke

Explanation of Mask: I painted the mask blue because I felt free. I put teardrops on the mask because I lost a lot of my sight. The rainbows in the eyes are a symbol of my creativity. The heart shows that I am loving, and the butterflies show that I am pleasant. The flowers show that I am content. The spiral and the question mark are to show that I am sometimes confused. The red chin has to do with being irritated. The frown is for when I feel heartbroken. The smile shows that I feel joyful and proud.

Name: Ignacio

City: Chicago

Brain Injury: Hit by a car

Explanation of Mask: I put flowers on the mask to make it look pretty.

Name: Edward

City: Mt. Prospect

Brain Injury: Had a virus called HSV and it spread to my brain. I now have trouble with my memory.

Explanation of mask: The year 1968 represents my wisdom, it is the year I was born, the check mark represents when I feel stable, clear, and easy. The crack in my mask at the top represents when I feel frustrated, challenged, distracted, confused and worried. The book represents my love for reading. I feel calm, peaceful, and relaxed when I am reading. I wear glasses and they keep me focused. I put a bright yellow in my eyes to show energy. My mask is smiling because it shows that I feel good, appreciative, awesome, cheerful, humorous, comfortable, delightful, fabulous, joyful, positive, and kind. The heart on my chin represents when I feel love. The baseball on my cheek represents when I feel playful. I chose to paint my mask green for clarity and content, the blue represents when things get confusing, and the yellow represents when I am happy.

Name: W. K.

City: Mt. Prospect

Brain Injury: Anoxic brain injury

Explanation of Mask: I feel lively, confident, smart, determined, worthwhile, and safe. The peace sign represents that I am in no danger. The hands on the bottom represent that I am in safe hands and accepted. The number one means I am worthwhile. The infinity sign means unlimited. The question marks mean that I am not always sure what’s happening.


Name:  Alan

Title: Trains and the Great Outdoors

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Blockage in Arteries

Explanation of Mask:

Red: Artery blockage in my brain

Blue: I was sad. I was blue. I have a smile because I survived. I was happy.

Gold Glitter: Where my injury was.

Train: Since I was four I have had trains, so I was thinking of trains and it made me happy.

Outdoor Stickers:  Because I am a Scout Leader. I thought of that and it made me happy.


Name:  Angie

Title: I Want to Speak

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Three strokes and a double mastectomy in one year

Explanation of Mask:

Black Lips – I can’t say anything to them. I can’t talk.

 Black Spot – When I first had my stroke, they gave me a (tPA) shot. The next two times I couldn’t have a shot. They thought it might make my brain bleed.

 Teal – Me crying. I get sad.

 Two Pink Breast Cancer Ribbons – Those are my girls!

 Pink Color – For breast cancer.

Yellow – That’s my eyes seeing things. I can see in my mind what I want to say but I can’t say anything. I want to speak. I wish people were able to understand me. I wish I had my speech.


Name:  Andres

Title: My Black Beard

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Brain Tumor

Explanation of Mask: I chose the color green because it is my favorite color.  I had a beard after my surgery while I was in rehabilitation.  It was hard to shave.  I never had a beard before, and I never knew that I could grow one! My beard was black.  The scar is from my surgery.  I chose the color tan because it is the color of skin. I used to watch TV all day, everyday when I was in the recovery room.  They showed relaxing nature channels like the one on the TV screen.  

Name:  Anne

Title: Always Move Forward

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Mom of someone with an anoxic brain injury 

Explanation of Mask: The yellow signifies my optimism about the continuation of healing in the brain, spirit and body.  Always move forward.  Get up and go for it.  Open the shades and let in the sun.  Find the improvements and celebrate them.  Be thankful for what is going well. 

Name:  Billie

Title: All the Pretty Things

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Left Hemisphere Stroke

Explanation of Mask: The blue because it’s my favorite color and I was feeling blue.  The red lips, headband and stars are because I like pretty things.  Even though I had a stroke, I still enjoy looking good, putting on make-up and getting my hair done.  I bought my daughter a pretty mask like this before she passed away and it reminds me of her and makes me happy. 

Name:  Bryan

Title: Badge of Courage

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Hemorrhagic Stroke due to High Blood Pressure

Explanation of Mask:  Bryan’s stroke was caused by a LARGE brain bleed caused from high blood pressure. The bleed was on the left side over his “speech” part of his brain. His right side was paralyzed and he was unable to speak. The right side of the mask as tears, sealed mouth, blood pressure cuff, empty feeling… Spent eight days at the first hospital and the doctor said there was no hope… THE DOCTOR GAVE UP…

We refuse to give up! So, we got Bryan flown to a new hospital. These doctors, well they did not give up!! We now had the hope we were needing!! The doctor worked his magic, went through Bryan’s forehead and extracted the bleed. We like to call that spot his “Badge of Courage.” Luckily, Bryan is left-handed so his doctor has lots of hope. Bryan can speak and with his Strength, Determination, Therapy, Support and Love from Family and Friends, and of course Faith… every little thing is gonna be alright is all part of the left side of the mask… Three weeks at the new hospital, five weeks of inpatient therapy and his journey continues!!

Name:  Carol

Title: How I Feel 

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Ischemic Stroke

Explanation of Mask: The blue side of my mask is me before the stroke.  The gray side is me after the stroke.

 1) Sad Face: lost friends and family.

 2) Purple Monster: angry about all that I had lost.

 3) Puzzle Piece: parts of my life were now missing.

 4) Ear Question Mark (?): couldn’t understand what was said.

 5) Laughing Face: felt people were laughing at me. 

6) Apple and Pencil: so much I knew before was now lost.

Name:  David

Title: Turned on a Dime 

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Ischemic Stroke

Explanation of Mask: 

1) My life turned on a DIME (dated 2008) when I had my stroke turning my life UPSIDE DOWN.

2) I went from sunny YELLOW to depressing BLUE mainly due to my aphasia and apraxia (ZIPPERED MOUTH).

3) The stroke hit me light a LIGHTENING BOLT, and the RED X marks the spot on my left side of my brain.


Name:  David

Title: I’m Alive 

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Hemorrhagic Stroke

Explanation of Mask: I picked yellow because it made me think of normal. My left side was good. The black line separates where everything went bad. The gray side is broken, and there are veins that run everywhere.

I survived a left-side hemorrhagic stroke since April 2003. The doctors said for three days that I was not going to survive. Some time before my stroke, the doctor wrote in his notes that I was a walking “time bomb.” I was overweight, not exercising, and not eating healthy. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high work-related stress. One week before my stroke, I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I decided on that Friday to see my doctor on Monday, but my stroke happened on Sunday morning while I was alone

I recovered at Rockford Memorial Hospital for two weeks. I did my rehab at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago for three months. I had no movement on my right side and was not able to talk. I was determined to get back to normal. I went to Provena in Rockford for three months as an inpatient working on everyday tasks. Then, I went to Van Matre Rehab Hospital as an outpatient for occupational, physical, and speech therapies for six months.

Today, I have 50% movement in my right leg, no movement in my right arm and hand, and have full vision. I struggle with Aphasia to communicate with people. There are challenges everyday – physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and relationships. But, I’m alive!

Name:  Derrick

Title: Lots of Love

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Brain Bleed/Clipping of an Aneurysm

Explanation of Mask: Prior to my injury, I was a DJ. I love music.

Blue is one of my favorite colors.

My last name is Underwood.

I suffer from memory loss and I have lost vision in my left eye.

Through everything, I am looking ahead.

I have a big heart and still have a lot of love to give.

Name:  Ed

Title: Teardrops and Rainbows

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Blindness from Traumatic Brain Injury from a Car Accident

Explanation of Mask: Teardrops: sadness for being blind.  Rainbow: happy for being alive.  I ride horses. I have been in the Special Olympics and have won many gold and silver medals.  My life now is riding horses.

Name:  Elly

Title: Purple Power

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Two Brain Bleeds with Surgery, One Stroke

Explanation of Mask: 

Purple: My favorite color. It makes me happy. 

Black Glitter: My surgeries left a hole in my head. I can still feel where it healed.

Pink Sequins: The color pink represents how I feel today and most every day: I feel happy. It also represents the blood in my head. 

Cross: Jesus is always watching over me.

Butterflies: My guardian angels. Also, I have some trouble with my speech since my stroke and saying words like “caterpillar” can be difficult.

Hummingbirds: They lift me up.

Dog Hair: The dog hair on the chin of the mask is from my dog, Puddles. He is my baby!

Feather: They had to shave my head when I had my surgeries. The feather represents my hair growing back and making me feel pretty again.

Name:  Harry

Title: The Dark Days, Tears of Hope

City: Rockford

Brain Injury:  Blockage- Six Strokes

Explanation of Mask: I couldn’t drive. My legs and arms – I couldn’t move them fast like I was used to doing. I was used to going. Every turn I took the doctors told me “no” about driving, I think like they do with everyone else with a stroke. Then the doctors finally told me “YES,” I could drive and I regained my FREEDOM!

Now I’m driving all over the place and even driving myself to dialysis. I lost my wife six years ago so I don’t like to have to rely on people. I painted tears of hope instead of tears of frustration that go along with everything like not getting to do what I want to do. I learned how to drive again on a riding lawn mower and want others to know that might be a good way for them to learn how to drive again, too.


Name:  Henry

Title: Seeing Double

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Stroke while Fixing an Aneurysm

Explanation of Mask: Four Leaf Clover: I’m lucky to be here

Two Sets of Eyes: I have double vision, trouble seeing, and seizures

Staples: to represent the staples post surgery

Strong patriot pride post stroke

Gold Sparkles: because I like to be different

Smile: I gotta be happy cause I am still here and there are always people worse off

I thank God, my family, and friends.


Name:  Jake

Title: Hit Bad

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury 

Explanation of Mask:  left side was hit & had a bleed in brain on right & left side of brain, was unconscious from 9-26-16 till October 2016, had help breathing from vent until transferred in November 2016 to RIC, they helped me to walk & talk again, my brain was working ok but I couldn’t say what I was thinking.  Van Matre is helping me to do better


Name:  Jim

Title: Life After Brain Injury

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury from a Motorcycle Accident in 1982

Explanation of Mask: 

I am a fisherman and tie my own flies and jigs.

I’ve given 19+ gallons of blood.

I drive my own car.

I’ve worked at Rockford Park District for 27 years. 

I am married and a “dad” to three dogs who are puppy mill rescues.

I serve at my church by greeting people.

I am on two board of directors that serve people with disabilities.

I love to go to the gym.

Love the White Sox!

I am a Rockford Noon Lion.

I’m a very happy, positive person and teach positive attitude to different groups.


Name:  Mandy

Title: Shine Bright

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Severe Traumatic Brain Injury by Motor Vehicle Accident: T-Boned by School Bus

Explanation of Mask: Made to Inspire. Wrecked car encompasses some beginning family members followed by the new family and a new degree stemming from the National Guard.  A new bike as a new beginning followed by a bike that I professionally ride today.  Gold Stars shine bright as each day passes. Orange brings brightness to each new day.

Name:  Kevin

Title: All the Great Things

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Motorcycle Accident with Traumatic Brain Injury 

Explanation of Mask:  Red: The spirit of the body. Blood makes you who you are. Smiles. Brown: A base color. Yellow: A wild strip down the middle! Makes everything different – it’s cool! Makes you think about what you’re doing and all the great things that are out there.

Name:  Manny

Title: It Sparked Everything

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Frontal Brain Injury 

Explanation of Mask: With the brain injury, I have mostly short-term memory loss. Things that happen now get lost in my brain and, since this happened in 2006, I’ve lost a lot.  On the positive side, I’m still here!  Most people think I’m ok, but that’s me keeping things to myself.  Van Matre is where I woke up from my coma!

Brown: My skin color. I tried to make it look like me.

Question Marks: Show where my brain injury was in the front –in my frontal lobe.

Yellow: The lightening. I was hit by a car, but my head hit the windshield. The whiplash sparked everything inside.

Tears: It does make me sad. Before my accident I could count on one hand the number of times that I had cried. Since my injury, I’ve bawled like a baby. That’s why I like this (Headlines) support group. It’s a safe place. I keep it in a lot of the time and don’t share. 

Name:  Marty

Title: Grateful

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Alcohol Intoxication Encephalopathy 

Explanation of Mask:  My first memory is waking up lying in the hospital bed not knowing what happened. I felt scared, confused, tired, and felt some pain in my stomach area. The people who I saw first were my parents. Seeing my parents made me feel relieved.

Participating in therapy while in the inpatient hospital was exhausting. When I left the hospital to go to my parents, I felt relieved. I felt more alive and grateful. Not being able to do the things I used to do and relying on them made me sad. As a result of my brain injury, I had difficulty using my hands, walking and talking. I was still able to read the newspaper and watch television.

When I first came to outpatient therapy, I felt unsure. As a result of being in therapy, I felt confident and good about driving again. I want my mask to show how grateful I am to be better

Grateful represents being healthy again.

Joyful represents being happy to be independent again.

Alive represents feeling alive again. I realized how important it is to be alive.

The Cross represents my faith in knowing that I was going to pull through.

The Angel represents my family watching over me.

Blue represents my favorite color and my strength.

Name:  Scattered

Title: They Brought Me Back

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury with a 25-foot fall

Explanation of Mask: I passed away and they brought me back.  I had to start from the beginning and excel to me now. 

Blue Nose: Represents that I lost my sense of smell. Under the circumstances I was in, losing my sense of smell is better than not being able to walk.  I’m not so much sad about it because I have more important things in my life.I used the blue color because it signifies being a little sad about it not working.

Fragrance: It was my favorite fragrance.

Monkey: Represents my love for monkeys!  I’m always posting things about monkeys.

Eyeliner: Because I’m really good at drawing eyeliner.

Food: Because I’m always thinking about food and hungry since my accident.

Name:  Paige

Title: Left Versus Right

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Pulmonary Embolism with Anoxic Brain Injury 

Explanation of Mask: Blue and Green are my favorite colors.  My left side was more physically affected since the right side of my brain controls it.  I made it blue because it represents my feeling of having to start over.  Green is my creativity that is still intact.  Green also means moving forward.  The glasses represent visual difficulties and the nosepiece represents bridging the gap between the brain hemispheres.  The Horse represents freedom.  I included Flowers because I like them.  The Piece of Blank Paper is a blank page for starting over.

Name:  Pat

Title: You Could Have, But Instead…

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Stroke in 2009

Explanation of Mask:

You could have grown cold,

But you grew courageous instead.

You could have given up,

But you kept on going.

You could have seen obstacles,

But you called them adventures.

You could have called them weeds,

But instead you called them wildflowers.

You could have died a caterpillar,

But you fought on to be a butterfly.

You could have denied yourself goodness,

But instead you chose to show yourself some self love.

You could have defined yourself by the dark days,

But instead through them you realized your light.

-S. C. Laurie

Name:  Ray

Title: Then and Now

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Left Hemorrhagic Stroke

Explanation of Mask: The left side represents my life before my stroke. It is yellow, which is a bright, cheery, positive color because life before my stroke was easy. Before my stroke: I was vibrant, clear thinking, purposeful, athletic, and very active. Time was at the forefront of everything I did. I was also decisive, passionate, comfortable, playful, enthusiastic, stable, certain, clear, and relaxed. I felt very courageous prior to my stroke, which is why it is written in large letters. I was also very active in pickleball. God was a part of my life before my stroke, but not nearly to extent that He is now. This is why “bible” is written in small letters.

The right side represents my life after my stroke. I chose purple which is a dark, murky color with less sunshine because life after my stroke is difficult. But, just because it is harder doesn’t mean I don’t do it! Since my stroke, I feel slowed down, deliberate, not a salve to the clock, lead a more simple life, and have better management of time. My emotions are at the surface compared to before – I’m more sentimental – the little things mean more than they did before. I feel both positive and negative feelings. The negative feelings include distracted, different, challenged, frustrated, and tired. The positive feelings include free, gracious, determined, uplifted, joyful everyday, happy in the moment, and ALIVE! Pickleball was an important part of my life before my stroke. I still play now and enjoy it, but I am not quite as good as I was. This is why pickleball is written in small letters. Similarly, I felt very courageous before my stroke. Now, I continue to try to not let my difficulties hold me back, but it is a challenge. This is why courageous is in small writing. Most importantly, I have a huge new sense of gratefulness. My life is expanded by all of the new friends I have made through the support groups. I have also grown spiritually since my stroke, which is why bible is now in much larger letters.

Tim, Jeff and Jen are my children.  Chris, Madison, Ashley, and Riley are my grandchildren.  Kim and Michelle are my daughters-in-law.  Extended family has come to mean more to me than before. I got a second chance at life and realize now that it is precious!

Last, I often think of a quote my friend Dawn Pfluger said, “I wish we could all get better.”


Name:  Robert

Title: Why?

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Brain Bleed Stroke

Explanation of Mask:  My first six months were a blur, in and out of facilities, crying, not knowing why, and unexplainable mood swings. I didn’t understand what was happening. My brain function was slowly improved. Physical body improved with much PT, OT, and speech therapies.

The blue represents my moods at the time and the yellow represents the feelings I wanted to stop. The pink shows that I feel I’ve lost a lot of rationalization and cognitive thoughts. The black area is my brain.

I hope this never happens again!

Name:  Rosemary

Title: Confusion

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Caregiver for my husband who had a stroke 

Explanation of Mask:  

Blue: I like the color blue.  

Orange and Yellow: For contrast.  

Question Marks: For confusion. I didn’t know how to help him when it happened. Even when the paramedics came, I felt lost. I wanted to help him but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even get close enough to him to hold his hand.

Name:  Shawn

Title: War Paint

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Right Basal Ganglia Stroke 

Explanation of Mask:  The black, red and blue represent the pain and hard work in therapy.  The light colors represent the hope.  The pink dots are my war paint to get me through this. 


Name:  Ty

Title: The Unseen Conflict

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury with a Car Accident

Explanation of Mask:  We were studying the Japanese culture in school. I learned that the dragon symbolizes courage, wisdom, and the mind. The tiger represents passion, power, strength, desire, and the body. When you see both the tiger and dragon fighting, it represents the constant struggle or “battle” between the mind (dragon) and body (tiger).  The fragmented “Z’s” represent my sleep. Since my accident, I have trouble falling asleep.  The drool symbolizes that I am always hungry.  The eye under the dragon has clocks in it to represent how I have no sense of time and the numbers are actually the date of my accident.  The other eye has a yin yang symbol in it. For me, it represents how things after the accident are either black or white – there is no gray. I need to be told specific instructions using a clear “yes or no.” The red symbol is used in Anime or comic books. It’s purpose is to show that a character is angry or upset. For me, it represents my temper since the accident. It’s been much harder to control. I lash out verbally and even the slightest difference in what I’m expecting would send me into a tantrum.


Name:  Victor

Title:  Hopeful and Grateful 

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Stroke

Explanation of Mask:  

Yellow stands out to me and I notice the color Red better. Yellow represents being exhausted.

Red – the red apple – represents delicious. Apple pie is my favorite.

Rainbow represents creative.  I like the colors of the rainbow when I see one out in the world.

The Walker is for getting around. It makes me feel ashamed.  Last September I fell and broke a hip so now I need one and have needed it since my stroke.

Pink represents cheerful.  White represents alive.  Purple represents content.

Hopeful and Grateful – I’m still here and look forward to getting better.


Name:  Wanda

Title:  I am Wanda

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Injury with a Fall

Explanation of Mask:  I fell after tripping over the raised edge of the shower floor. I hit my head very hard against the wall of the shower, which caused a serious brain injury. My daughter called the ambulance and I was taken to OSF Emergency Room. I only remember the doctor holding up an x-ray and saying, “looking at these pictures, you should not be able to answer the questions I’m asking you.”

I have a shining faith in God and believe in the power of prayer. I had a miraculous recovery considering the extent of my injury. Through good care of the medical team and support from my four children and the good care and therapy at Van Matre, I’m doing great and I know how fortunate I am.

My mask shows the doctor looking at my MRI – My 4 children are with me always –

The Angel is for the prayers of my family and friends – The tears of love are for the gratitude I feel in God for answering our prayers and allowing me to (recover) –  With the care of all who were there for me – Once Again – I am Wanda

Name:  William

Title:  Before, During and After

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Clot on Left Side

Explanation of Mask:  Blue is before my stroke.  Black is for the stroke.  Yellow is when I came out of the stroke (where I’m at now).

Name:  Yolanda

Title:  Two Sides of Me

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Brain Injury Caused by Two Strokes

Explanation of Mask:  The two sides of me: The calm, peaceful and orderly side of me.  And the injured, disorderly side with scrambled thought process.  The disorderly side droops.

Name:  Sharon

Title:  Happiness and Stroke

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Left Hemisphere Stroke

Explanation of Mask:  Yellow represents happiness and the purple represents the side of my brain that the stroke occured. 

Name:  Sara

Title:  Hard Work and Diligence 

City: Rockford

Brain Injury: Brain Stem Stroke

Explanation of Mask: The light bulb symbolizes new ideas.  It also represents the thoughtfulness of family and friends.  The flowers are colorful and remind me of being in nature.  The starfish and shells symbolize frolicking in the sea.  The black lines under the eyes are like athletes challenging opponents because it takes hard work and diligence to get back to how you were.  The feathers are a reminder to keep your sense of humor.