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Breaking Barriers logo


Through Our lens


Through Our Lens Home
Leslie Elsasser - Introduction
Selina Roman - Looking Inward, Seeing Clearer
Christian Cortes

Beginning (Section A)
Jarrett Gafford - US Air Force
Dawn S. Hargrett - US Navy
Rebekka Huneke - Daughter of US Air Force Veteran Father
Ramonita Rosa - US Army
Kimberlee Nicole Smith - US Army
Monika Sutton - Wife of US Army Veteran
Karl Young II - US Army Colonel (US Special Operations Command)

Advanced (Section B)
James Alexander - US Air Force
Manfredo Bobadilla - US Army
Wildalys Class - US Air Force
Agustin Collazo Jr. - US Marine Corps / US Navy
Amanda Dodd - US Army
Evan Fountain - US Air Force
Mikko Maki - US Marine Corps
Alicia Morales - US Army
RaeAnne Swanson - US Air Force


Mikko Maki, Inside/Out, 2022

Mikko Maki, Inside/Out, 2022

MIKKO MAKI - US Marine Corps

Written as told to Bethany Maki

My good eye. Well, my better eye. The eyeball that didn’t require injections of the antiviral drug ganciclovir to fight the CMV retinitis that almost took my sight. Because of this virus, coupled with cerebral toxoplasmosis, I live with an acquired brain injury.

The battery of questions from the neurologist — What’s today’s date? Who is the president? Remember these five words and repeat them back to me. What color is this string? — rang inside my head in those early days in the hospital after my brain injury began. The questions from my neurologist aren’t different now that I’m “healed” — that is — there is only scar tissue, not active infection, disrupting my cognition, executive function, and short-term memory. I’m scared each time I answer, but I’m alive and that is worth the fear and confusion I navigate daily with my broken brain.



A Note from Bethany

“It’s 1984. Ronald Reagan. The string is blue.” This is what my husband — my stubborn, strong, exceedingly loving retired Marine husband — said to his neurologist while lying in a hospital bed on April 22, 2015. There was no string.

To hear the person you consider your rock confabulate like that changes your life on the spot. You never feel completely safe again because you know quantifiably how much and how fast things can change. But the one thing that never changed was our bond. Mikko couldn’t remember my name, but when the neurologist pointed to me and asked each day who I was, Mikko always said, “My beautiful wife.” That love is how and why we live each day.


Mikko Maki, A Look Inside, 2022

Mikko Maki, A Look Inside, 2022

Mikko Maki, Time, 2022

Mikko Maki, Time, 2022


For more information:
Email Leslie Elsasser at

Breaking Barriers is a project by USFCAM in collaboration with the USF School of Art and Art History, with Support from the USF Office of Veterans Success, Community Arts Impact Grant Program of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Love IV Lawrence 2020 Waves of Change Grant, and additional support from the ACE Arts for Community Engagement Fund and the Florida Department of State.