Traumatic brain injury survivors use masks to tell story

Published: Jul. 6, 2016 at 10:16 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 7, 2016 at 11:49 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Two people in Wilmington with traumatic brain injuries are turning to a simple arts and crafts activity to help with their recovery process.

Unmasking Brain Injury is a program, created by Executive Director Marty Foil, that lets survivors create masks depicting their struggles and triumphs during their recovery.

He said it was inspired by an article in National Geographic that featured soldiers who had done masks as part of their therapeutic experience.

After showing the article to his staff, they took the first masks made by survivors to a fundraiser, where he says people were mesmerized.

"The brain injury field has never had a really powerful advocacy tool and really lags in awareness and we saw this as what could be potentially the perfect tool for someone with a brain injury to advocate for themselves to tell their story and explain to somebody else in a way they can understand what it's like to live with a brain injury," Foil said.

He said there are between nine and ten states doing the project under the Unmasking Brain Injury banner.

"This may be the one thing we've found that could be our AIDS quilt for brain injury," Foil said.

Wendy Lewis's life changed when her traumatic brain injury accident happened all while making a sandwich.

"The next thing I knew I was in the light and when I came out of it I was lying flat on my back on the concrete for two days and no one found me," Lewis stated.

Another local, Jason Burke, who also experienced a traumatic brain injury accident, recalled the time his happened in 2013.

"We were on a six-person golf cart," Burke said. "I was on the back, turned to talk to someone, we hit something in the road, it bounced me off, I landed on my feet and I flipped nine times."

Jason was in a coma for a month.

"After rehab, it was very scary when I left this hospital," Burke said. "It was like I wanted to leave, but when I got home I was like 'oh, crap…how am I going to live life now?"

Lewis and Burke said day-to-day life was tough, but with the help of arts and crafts supplies and an untouched mask, they saw a glimmer of hope.

"Making that mask, I didn't know I still had hope," Lewis said.

Lewis and Burke showed off their masks and explained the meaning behind each painting and bead.

"Even though all our masks tell a totally different story, it identifies you with each other because I can guarantee you somewhere along the way we've felt like that other person," Lewis said.

Burke said he hopes his mask will send a message to those going through their own journey to never give up.

"I hope it gives strength and hope that may be sitting in a dark room, thinking, 'I'm the only one', well, you're not," Burke said.

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