‘Unmasking’ event at Guthrie Theater raises awareness about brain injuries

Every journey has a starting point—just ask Archie DuCharme.

His journey started on a ladder that he was using to climb onto the roof of his home, only he never made it that far. DuCharme fell and suffered a traumatic brain injury, changing his life forever.

“I told her I just need to run up there for 15 minutes of work,” DuCharme said.   It was my own fault.”

DuCharme was a successful computer programmer at the time, though within a month of the accident he could not read his own codes.

“I could read sentences, but I couldn’t put together the paragraphs and the chapters in the program anymore,” he said.

According to the neurologists at Hennepin County Medical Center, DuCharme had a brain sheer. Like many people who suffer from brain injuries, DuCharme had no visible outward signs of an injury. So his wife, Denise, encouraged him to paint the signs.

Several years ago, the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance started a program called Unmasking Brain Injuries.  They provided brain injury victims with a blank mask and asked them paint and decorate the mask in a way that tells a story about their injury.

DuCharme decided to make one painting, and then another one.

“Each one of these wire figures is a little person and they’re pulling the words out of my head,” he said while describing his mask. “And I just thought that was kind of a cool way to describe it.”

Denise also created a mask representing all of the questions she receives about her husband’s brain injury.

Denise and Archie were among two hundred people who initially created masks for the Brain Injury Alliance. The collection has now grown to more than a thousand.

Many of those masks along with a film documenting their creation is set to run at the Guthrie Theater Monday, showcasing the invisible but long-lasting effects of brain injuries like DuCharme’s.

“It will allow people to have a deeper understanding of what some of their fellow family members or people in their community have gone through or are going through,” DuCharme said. “It’s definitely a journey, but we’ve learned to turn it into an adventure, I think.”

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