The Masks


Name: Kirk

City: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: Ten years ago, I was stabbed in the temple at a fraternity party.

Explanation of Mask: I was a business and Spanish major in Alabama before the accident.  I have had trouble with drinking and am in AA.  The broken heart represents that my heart was broken from my injury because I haven’t been able to do everything I want to.  The pictures of mountains and the horse represent my love of the outdoors and working with horses.  Before my accident I worked at Yellowstone one summer on horseback.   SPEECH is over my mouth because I have Aphasia which makes reading, writing and speech difficult. My family has always been supportive of me and helped me through my struggles.

Name: Amanda W

City: Elizabethton

Brain Injury: I was in a car accident when I was 6 years old. I was with my grandmother and my sister.  At the hospital, they found a brain tumor.

Explanation of Mask: It has my four favorite colors on it. They make me happy. They remind me of the colors in the bible: red for blood, purple for royalty, I can’t remember the others. I’m creative with art and writing. I get a lot of ideas in my head. It’s fun. Sometimes I feel like I’m very unique, but I think we are all unique. Being around certain people makes me nervous. I’ve really had to be strong, because of all of my life’s experiences.

Name: Gary B

City: Greenville

Brain Injury: Sustained from a car wreck. I was hit by a tractor trailer June 24th 2002.

Explanation of Mask: The color blue represents the sky because the sky’s the limit for me. Brown is the mountain because of strength- Endurance. I feel like life is a constant climb. Green represents the ground- I feel like my feet are finally planted on the ground in the right direction. White represents clouds for my life because I feel when we look at clouds we are dreaming, and I’m always dreaming of what the future holds.

Name: Rich J

City: Knoxville

Brain Injury: Car accident, New Year’s Eve 1981 (student at U.T. Knoxville).

Explanation of Mask:  After my injury everything was random. That’s why my colors are random. Some of the emotions my family felt: helpless, hopeless, and frightened. I felt: Anger. Now I am focused on the task at hand- to get up on my feet again, and be independent.

Name: JimS

City: Limestone

Brain Injury: Auto Accident in 2010

Explanation of Mask: It’s just a mask I guess. Making it though, was peaceful and relaxing. I feel I improved the looks of the mask. The black outline sets it off!  

Name: Callaway F

City: Irwin

Brain Injury: Tick Bite Developed encephalitis due to the bite. Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Explanation of Mask: I wrote the initials RMSF to show what happened to me. The yellow represents my greatness. I’m healed. The teal represents my fear of ticks- Afraid they were all over the pace. Red is me being calm. I feel I’m in a good place.  

Name: Jeff W

City: Mountain City

Brain Injury: Attempted suicide- gunshot.

Explanation of Mask:The blue represents my state of mind before I shot myself, and at the time it happened. On my forehead it says “This one’s mine, Satan. Take your hands off” – The words of my Lord and Savior.  I’ve grown in so many ways since the accident. I am more grateful, and joyful. My large pupils represent the state of addiction I was in.

Name: Robyn W

City: Piney Flats

Brain Injury: I was 20 years old when I was in a car wreck in Knoxville TN. I turned 21 in a coma.

Explanation of Mask: I feel like life is pretty bumpy being handicapped and dealing with everything. I like the word imagine because I don’t know what the future holds, and I feel like I’m in a standstill with life.

Name: Michael O

City: Piney Flats

Brain Injury: At 9 years old I was hit by dump truck. My mom was a crossing guard, and we were crossing the road when I was hit.

Explanation of Mask: My mask is black because I felt in a dark place after the accident. The stars represent wanting to be a police officer, but due to my injury I can’t. The Wizard of Oz means spring and outdoors. The flowers mean sunshine on my face. The porch represents a country home, which makes me smile.  

Name: Kelly W

City: Oak Ridge

Brain Injury: The first injury happened while walking across the street in Johnson City, and a car hit me. The second injury occurred in a car accident.

Explanation of Mask: Adventure was waiting for me in the form of a basketball scholarship at Montreat Anderson College in North Carolina. My entire life I have tried to laugh as much as possible. I have always been adventurous, even after my injuries. I have fun being around wildlife and animals in general. Music helps me to settle down in stressful situations. Listening to country music is my own way of escaping tension and boredom. Purple is a strong color. This represents me well, because I have had to remain strong through all of my trials.

Name: Julia E

City: Irwin

Brain Injury: Hit by car. My car slid on ice, I got out and was hit by a car.

Explanation of Mask: Brown and yellow are my favorite colors. I feel you, and I’m very amazing. Feel blessed to be alive. Grateful. Cheerful.

Name: Jeff J

City: Jonesborough

Brain Injury: Car Wreck in 1991

Explanation of Mask: My mask is blue because it makes me happy to be alive. I left my mouth white because I have a big smile.

Name: Joshua K

City: Limestone

Brain Injury: Hit by a car while walking 

Explanation of Mask: My blue mask represents how free and happy I am. I did not want to add anything to the mask because I feel free and amazing.

Name: Wayne E

City: Kingsport

Brain Injury: Sustained his brain injury in a car wreck.

Explanation of Mask: Before my injury I loved to travel and drive all of my great cars. I was going to school to be a family doctor, but then I sustained my injury. Now I’m still loving life and laughing lots.

Name: Briana S

Brain Injury: Fall at work.

Explanation of Mask: The yellow on my mask represents happiness, being grateful, and being bold. The blue on my mask represents when I feel sad, embarrassed, confused, helpless, and different. The pink on my mask represents love and roses. The red on my mask represents the blood of Jesus, and when I am angry or irritated. The white on my mask represents when I am hopeful.

Name: Jason K 

City: Hixson

Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injury as a result of a fight.

Explanation of Mask: I was born in Pennsylvania where I lived for 6 years.  Next, I lived in Missouri for 5 years before moving to Hixson, TN in 1989.  My interests include exercising, having lunch with my dad, playing pool, and going to Dave & Buster’s on Thursdays.  I enjoy movies and volunteering at Senior Connection, Lilburn Co-Op, and Norcross Ministries. Mac ‘n cheese, potatoes, or anything starchy top my list of favorite foods.  As long as I’m fed, I am one happy camper. Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the MOST!

Name: Annette

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: My injury was caused by physical abuse on multiple occasions.  I would not wish a brain injury on anyone.  People do not understand what it is like to walk in these shoes.  They can’t see the problems that are hidden on the inside.

Explanation of Mask: The purple on my mask represents my favorite color.  It gives me HOPE.  The black on my mask shows the pain and darkness around me.  I keep going because God is my strength and helps me keep going.  Never give up!

Name: Alice

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was a hard-working single mom who thought she was fighting a major sinus infection who later sustained a major brain injury bleed causing a stroke.  I refused to let my son take me to the hospital while in the meantime my headache and functional abilities declined rapidly.

Explanation of Mask: I chose Alice in Wonderland because my adventure was also unplanned and nonsensical with an unlikely cast of characters.  I am now 15 months into my adventure and I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.  I have learned not to label brain injury.  There are too many different kinds and each person presents differently.  This project will hopefully make others come to understand that as well. 

Name: Zach

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: During college, I was in a severe car accident while driving back to school after Thanksgiving break.  I had to be airlifted to Vanderbilt and spent a month in the hospital and several more months in outpatient therapy, but I was able to return to complete my degree the following semester.

Explanation of Mask: I’ve entitled my mask “Maps.”  Every brain injury is unique; some people are high functioning while others have severe impairments.  After a brain injury, you need a map because navigating through life with your new brain is no easy feat.  The way you react to stimuli can be completely changed.  Your emotional control board may be altered.  Both of these can impact your interactions with others.  People tend to think a disability is like a missing limb, but it can be so much more than that.  My biggest struggle now is maintaining stable employment in my field and building relationships with people who understand MY brain injury.

Name: Carolyn

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was in a horrible automobile accident in 1994.  I sustained a serious brain injury.  I awoke from my coma, I had 10 years missing from memory.  I was married at the time and did not even remember anything about my husband or that marriage as it was a part of the 10 years erased from my mind.  I went home from the hospital and rehab with a “complete stranger.”  My process to learn information changed but not my ability to do it.  The frustrating part of my injury is the information is there, I temporarily can’t always access it when I need it. 

Explanation of Mask: The little tags are symbolic of the memory I lost.  My mask represents the explosion of my memories that I lost as the thoughts escape my brain.  I “Put My Best Face Forward” as this displays my need to always be put together.  I want to present to the world an image of always being “the best I can be and do the best I can in all that I try to do.”

Name: Chase

City/State: Ringgold

Brain Injury: At 16, I was lifting weights and had a brain aneurysm followed by 3 strokes.  I live with an inoperable blood clot in my neck.  Everything in life takes more energy;  I feel like I’ve aged forty years.  Therapy and the Vocational Re-Entry program helped me regain many skills and find employment.  I work at the front desk of Siskin Hospital where I greet and direct visitors and answer the telephone.

Explanation of Mask: My mask is about the loneliness that comes when old friends are leading different lives and your never see them again.  I am grateful, though, and I feel blessed.  I know I am a kinder person now, and I am hopeful about the future.

Name: Christa

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: My brain injury was caused at birth initially.  And then, my biological father repeatedly abused me when I was young.  I have struggled for many years with massive seizure activity.

Explanation of Mask: My mask represents many things I go through each day.  The yellow demonstrates the lightning bolt of electricity I experience from my on-going seizures.  I feel an internal camouflage in my head due to the confusion I always have.  The stars are my “Hope to Heaven” of Jesus being my helper.  I see fire in my mask that reminds me of how my seizures cause migraines all the time and causes me to forget things frequently.  But I still look for the fun things in life.  I love my dog and my family.  Together, we find much happiness! 

Name: Connie

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I have been in three separate car accidents causing me to sustain a TBI.  My youngest son was also injured and sustained a TBI in one of the accidents.

Explanation of Mask: While originally from Michigan, I now call Chattanooga my home.  My anxiety is a challenge, but I do  not let it define me!  I have a lot to be grateful and thankful for … For everything I have endured and more … I am a survivor, 3 times over.

Name: Dean

City/State: Cleveland

Brain Injury: My injury was caused by a massive brain aneurysm.  After getting to the hospital, I then had a massive stroke leaving me paralyzed on my left side.

Explanation of Mask: After my brain injury from a ruptured aneurysm, I was angry.  I was angry because my friends abandoned me and my family discouraged me.  I was so isolated.  Yellow represents the sunshine which is the joy I experience from being able to be outdoors and enjoy life.  Every day is a new beginning.  I love new challenges.  I am doing things I never thought I would do despite my physical challenges.  My absolute favorite thing is riding my accessible bike for miles and miles.  I feel so much freedom and gain so much more self-esteem through y new accomplishments.

Name: Don K

City/State: Athens

Brain Injury: I was just one of many thousands driving to work that day.  I suffered a medical emergency and sandwiched my car on the driver’s side around a tree.  By the onsite emergency medical personnel and police, I was thought to be another traffic fatality.  When I awoke from my coma, I was being treated for multiple broken bones, bruises, and lacerations.  A week later, I was released home for outpatient PT only.  I began to experience seizures, vertigo, semantic aphasia and fibromyalgia.

Explanation of Mask: I continue to battle the later three foes daily and I am angered and saddened.  I am not angry because of the accident for “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD (Psalm 37:23),” but because I feel that most of my world perceive the “new me” as a person of lesser value.  Hey, I am still here!

Name: Drew

City/State: Collegedale

Brain Injury: I had recently received my degree in chemistry from Southern Adventist University in 2014 and was looking forward to furthering my education and getting married to my best friend.  My life changed instantly when I was found unconscious in a ditch from a biking accident.  I was in a critical condition and diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury.  I went through extensive rehabilitation both in inpatient and outpatient facilities ot get to where I am today.

Explanation of Mask: The bike helmet on my mask symbolizes the long ride back on a new path.  My goal is to become an Occupational Therapist and help others who have been injured.  Presently, I am photographing the Unmasking Brain Injury Project and making a video for the Chattanooga Area Brain Injury Association support group which has helped me.  I can be described as determined, preserving, adventuresome, and 4C Strong.  My hope for the future became a reality when I married the love of my life, Emily, last year.

Name: Alex

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: When I was 29, I was a pedestrian struck by a SUV and left on the road.  I woke up in the hospital thinking I was 18.

Explanation of Mask: I want to do an explosive design because I’m exploding with happiness!  I think my old self died.  I can’t believe the stupid stuff I used to do.  Since my brain injury, I think about things ahead of time and of the consequences.  I’m actually pretty happy this happened to me.  I go to a lot of “groups” now, but I don’t see it as therapy-it’s fun.  I like to volunteer; just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean that I can’t do something and help others.

Name: Ellen

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I took a freak fall and sustained a frontal lobe, eye, and cheek injury.  After spending a year confined to bed, I now live with poor balance, partial blindness, eye pain, double vision, and intolerance of noise. 

Explanation of Mask: I’ve entitled my mask “I Never Give Up and I Persevere Through Adversity.”  I am a bookkeeper and I have returned to work.  My husband describes me as a savant, quickly finding the smallest errors.  With a strong faith in God, I feel that suffering has brought me wisdom.  I enjoy kayaking with my husband.  It lets us enjoy the beauty and quietness of nature. 

Name: Emeril

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was in a car accident with my mom siblings when I was 5 years old.  They were injured too.  My father deserted us after that. 

Explanation of Mask: I just painted my mask blue.  I’m a pretty quiet person.   My mom says I’m antisocial but really, I just get frustrated because I feel like no on understands me.  The title of my mask is finding a “New Normal.”  My mask helps me blend in, especially at school.  I enjoy music, guitar, and playing with Minnie, my dog.  I look forward to finishing High School and to whatever the future may bring.  I enjoy the time I spend with my friends at school.  I look forward to finding my “New Normal.”

Name: Connor

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: Life divided before and after brain injury, I was a McCallie graduate, state wrestling champ and a college graduate working on the Series 7.  My life’s dreams were shattered in a blink of an eye, a red car plowed through a stop sign hitting me while driving without a seat belt.  Not expected to ever walk or talk again, years of therapy as Siskin saved my life.

Explanation of Mask: My mask and life are anchored in my strong Christian faith and positive attitude which is a God given choice.  Thankful for the miracle of life, I feel God saved me with a heavenly purpose to make an impact on the world.  I enjoy staying busy.  I work at McWright and Associates.  I also volunteer and play golf.  An inspirational writer, Connors Corner is featured in the weekly Hosanna newsletter.

Name: Ian

City/State: Soddy Daisy

Brain Injury: I survived a malignant  brain tumor at 17 and then a reoccurrence at 21.  It was just a little brain surgery to give you a headache; I was lucky and fortunate.  However, following surgery and treatment, I also had several strokes.  I can’t explain what a stroke feels like.  It’s complicated unless you’ve been through it.

Explanation of Mask: I’ve entitled my mask “Low Will Power.”  My positive attitude and strong Christian faith give me comfort.  Although I have short-term memory problems, I’m always practicing my compensatory strategies.  I’m a hard worker.  In the past I’ve worked at a grocery store and a parking garage.  Currently, I work as a janitor at the mall. 

Name: Jeanette

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was in a car accident 21 years ago that changed my life.  Before my accident, I was a school teacher, but then I had to relearn how to do things as basic as speaking and eating.

Explanation of Mask: I became a Christian after my crash.  Although God shut a lot of doors, he has opened many more.  Now, I volunteer with the Tim Tebow Foundation, and I help care for my dad who has Alzheimer’s Disease.  I’ve had a hard time accepting all the changes, but my family tells me that they like the new me better.  I used to be strict and uptight.  Now I’m more fun and relaxed.  I like who I am now.  Once you learn to accept your brain injury, you can finally move on and start to heal.

Name: Jenny

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: When I was 10 years old, I got meningitis encephalitis.  I started to feel sick at school.  When I got home, I stopped breathing.  The infection in my brain caused me to have seizures and memory problems.  For a while doctors said it was just epilepsy, but now I’ve been diagnosed with Mesial Temporal Sclerosis

Explanation of Mask: In high school, I earned an art scholarship for my paintings.  Now I only paint a little.  I’ve put women’s rights symbol on the mask because this is a woman’s mask!   The expression on the cheek is for happiness.  The lips are painted purple because that’s my favorite color.  The gold around my neck represents my vagus nerve stimulator that prevents more seizures.  The purple feathers represent my healing.  The yellow makes me feel happy and bright!  I’ve named my mask “Anita.”

Name: Lem

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I had a massive stroke in 2013.  I spent over a month in acute care and then 3 months in rehab.

Explanation of Mask: My mask is gold and purple because those are my favorite colors.  I’m a pretty positive person, but I get frustrated with my physical limitations.  Before my stroke, I played sports like football and basketball, and I lifted weights.  I like helping others as much as I can.

Name: Kenaniah

City/State: Cleveland

Brain Injury: I received my brain injury when my mom was six pregnant with me.  She became very ill.  Her sugar went to 500.  Largest Ketones diagnosed her pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes.  They pulled 500 to 40 in one hour.

Explanation of Mask: My brain injury was severe.  The doctors said when I was born that I would possibly die.  They said I would never suck or swallow nor walk or talk.  The black area on the left side represents my injured brain.  The black on each side of my eyes represents blindness in that field of my vision.  The yellow represents joy.  The cross represents God’s intervention in my life and is leading me to be a pastor.  The butterfly represents the doctor’s diagnosis and how despite it all, I am walking, talking, and living a great life! 

Name: Lee

City/State: From California

Brain Injury: While a junior in college, I was a passenger in a bad car wreck.  I do not remember the accident… just lots of rehab.  Living life with short term memory causes anxiety, depression, and frustration for myself.  I try to keep my mouth shut although it angers me hearing people gossip, feeling it serves no positive purpose.

Explanation of Mask: My brain injury is an invisible handicap.  I look perfectly normal and feel misunderstood by others.  The eyes with lightning reflect the seizure activity and life divided before and after brain injury.  I describe myself as determined, all-inclusive and resolved.  God is radically important in my life.  My words to describe my faith would fail me.  I reside at Hosanna.  I enjoy mountain biking, reading research, movies alone, lifting weights and spending time with family.

Name: Linda

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I suffered a brain injury when I fell down a flight of steps.  I struggle with short-term memory loss, I am only “brain INJURED – not brain dead!”

Explanation of Mask: I am friendly and funny.  I enjoy playing cards, telling jokes, and shooting pool.  My Christian faith is strong and others will know I am a Christian when they see my mask.  I am a survivor of breast cancer, brain injury, stroke, and dumb luck.  I always say “Live your life as if it’s your last day.”

Name: Orlando

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was hit over the head with a bottle and fell hitting my head on a concrete curb.  I had to re-learn how to do everything again including walking, talking and caring for myself.  I live life with severe short-term memory loss.

Explanation of Mask: I always say “never doubt God.  When it looks like it is over, it’s only beginning.”  Friendly and polite, I enjoy helping with chores where I live at Hosanna.  I would really like to find a job.  Hurting people makes me sad, especially abused children and homeless people.  “God is always in my life, I talk to him every day.  If the spirit isn’t in you, your dead.”

Name: Richard

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: Aneurysm in 2001 (at the age of 30) followed by brain surgery at Cedars-Sinal Medical Center in California 

Explanation of Mask: I trusted my future to God approximately five years ago.  My journey began with God leading me to and then through a 12-Step Program.  I have lived this new life in recovery for nearly five years now. 

When my brain injury complicated my disease, it caused me many struggles.  Some of these include:

-coping with depression, stress and an anxiety disorder -dealing with confusion that follows a brain injury

-managing my thoughts of feeling overwhelmed and lost

-handling all the frustrations that are caused by short-term memory loss 

Music has always brought me joy.  I started playing the guitar around the age of 13.  Music was so important to me that I chose not to play sports in high school.  I played with a band that performed in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama.  I still play today and have more than 100 unfinished songs that I plan to finish some day (thus Unbound Music).  Eventually I moved to New York to begin a career in stage and film.  With some minor success, I eventually moved to Los Angeles.  Through God’s grace, my life was spared in 2001.  After returning to Chattanooga, with my Father’s determination, guidance, and love, I started recovering mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

I am EXTREMELY THANKFUL for where I am today.  I truly enjoy helping others and bringing happiness to those I meet.  I believe this to be my life’s purpose.  My wish is that this mask helps someone else who is in long-term recovery or has had a brain injury.

Name: Patrick

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I have had more than one traumatic brain injury.  My first one was at Burger King when I had a major meltdown at work.  I hit my head on a metal slab.  Later, I was involved in a car accident.

Explanation of Mask: My favorite color is red as painted on my mask.  The black indicates the darkness and confusion I have experienced so many years from my accident.  I have struggled for a long time not being able to get to the right specialist to help me get better or understand my disability.  I have always loved riding a bike, going camping, racing and especially going to church.  Now, I have a very difficult time going in public due to the noise, lights and movement going on around me.  It is hard for me to do what I want to do.  Others do not understand what it is like to be in my shoes.

Name: Scout

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I was in a major car accident when I was in high school.  I sustained a TBI from a diffuse axonal injury – a scattering of small, pinpoint sheered connections throughout my brain.

Explanation of Mask: I have been an artist my whole life.  My whole family is artistic.  My injury has made it harder to be a fine-tuned as I was before.  It’s kind of like how words are hard to find.  Now, when I create my art, I think it’s very important that all the colors are just the way I see them in my head. 

Before my accident, I just didn’t care about anything.  Now, I’m focused.  I’m in college.  I have goals.  I’m hard headed and I will keep working hard.  I don’t see my accident or injury in a negative way.  You have got to make the best of everything! 

Name: Terry

City/State: Chattanooga

Brain Injury: I graduated as valedictorian of my high school class and got a brand new car.  That same year, I was brain injured in a car wreck and was in a coma for a month.

Explanation of Mask: I want my mask to really show my personality and my style.  I’m crazy, but in a good way!  When I was recovering in the hospital, I got right up and started to walk even though my pelvis was broken,  I don’t like to stay down.

Name: Kirk

City/State: Chattanooga 

Brain Injury: While I was in college at the University of Alabama, I was violently stabbed through the head by a convicted felon.  I suffered an aphasic stroke, so I am most frustrated with word finding and people not understanding me or not giving me enough time to talk.  Because of my loss, I’ve battled depression, and I have had problems with self-medicating my grief.

Explanation of Mask: The Hinds’ Feet Farm cap symbolizes the 5 happy years I spent in their innovative brain injury day program in Asheville, North Carolina.  My hobbies include fishing, walking in the woods, and volunteering at the YMCA and Chattanooga Food Bank.  Through faith, prayers, and church with my Mimi, I have found peace with God.