People Work to ‘Unmask’ Traumatic Brain Injuries in Minnesota

Survivors and family members paint masks depicting their journeys with traumatic brain injuries

DULUTH, Minn. – About 2.5 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury every year in the United States.

On Tuesday, people made masks at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, depicting how they’ve been impacted by brain injuries.

Over the last four years, 1,400 Minnesotans have made their own, unique masks. They communicate in a way words can’t about how traumatic brain injuries can change lives.

Julia Byrnes’ husband, Marty, suffered a severe stroke last month.

“When he called me and said ‘I think I’m having a stroke,’ I knew my life changed forever,” said Julia Byrnes.

Julia asked Marty what his mask should look like to reflect his journey to recovery.

“And he said ‘ I think it would look very sad’ because he is sad that he doesn’t work like he used to,” said Byrnes.

The mask has disconnected wires in its head, symbolizing Marty’s struggle to connect his thoughts.

“He’s still in there but, because of that clot, because of that interruption, his thoughts always don’t make sense,” said Byrnes.

Traumatic brain injuries can be caused by strokes, crashes, falls, and assaults.

They impact people in many different ways.

“[They] effect your ability to communicate, your ability to walk, to perform activities or daily living,” said Brett Osborne, the Director of Rehab Services at St. Luke’s.

The Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance is attempting to “un-mask” the reality of these injuries by giving survivors and caregivers an outlet to express themselves.

“It can be very invisible,” said Debbi Erickson, Volunteer Manager for the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance and Stroke Association. “You look fine, you talk fine, you walk fine but sometimes you can only communicate or work or talk for two hours at a time.”

The masks have been displayed across Minnesota; at hospitals, the state capitol and even the state fair.

On Saturday morning, the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance is hosting its annual “Walk for Thought” in Duluth’s Leif Erickson Park to further raise awareness for the problem.

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