On Thursday, the rest of the country will have the chance to hear their story. The Fritts’ will be featured on the Today Show on NBC between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.
After being diagnosed with the disease in August, 2003, Donnie had surgery to remove brain tissue, portions of bone from his forehead, cheeks, the area between his eyes, the floor of his left orbit, tissue from his cheek, nose, sinuses, upper lip, and his entire upper jaw. For years, he wore a mask to cover the hole in his face.
While most people who knew his story rallied to his side, others taunted him and made fun of his speech and his looks.
“Words do hurt,” Donnie admits.
But after being treated for the cancer and beating it, he received reconstructive surgery from a team of doctors who slowly rebuilt his face, giving him a jaw, upper palate, nose, and upper lips.
“Today” producer Kerri Zimmer and cameraman Tyrone Edwards came to Calhoun Friday to film the taped portions of the show. Sharon said they would fly out today for New York and stay at the Essex House Hotel overlooking Central Park.
“They are giving us an extra day after the show to go sightseeing,” she said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Donnie said they drove through the Big Apple a few years ago, before he was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was about one-thirty in the morning,” he said, adding that they plan to visit the Statue of Liberty.”
At the time of the diagnosis, he was given less than a two-percent chance to live.
After all the reconstructive surgeries, the couple says have had setbacks medically, but not spiritually.
Donnie’s body is rejecting two of the implants, said Sharon; the two between his eyes, which hold his upper palate, have failed.
As a result, he has had to return to using his fingers to help him chew his food, by pressing them against his bottom teeth.
“We go back to Maryland for surgery sometime in July, as soon as they can schedule it. They told us not to worry, that they would get him fixed up and back to eating again very soon,” she said about the team of professionals who are helping him. “Since he is the first to have this, he has to be the one to go through all the “first” time problems. It will be easier for the next person who has to face any of this.”
Sharon said the resulting infections have been very painful, but her husband “has remained positive.”
“He lives to be a blessing to others,” she said.
“You need to tell people what a good job they are doing,” said Donnie.
Despite the infections and the rejection of the implants, the couple says they have found a strength that they believe everyone has, even if they don’t realize it. After the Today Show airs, they will get ready for the next round of surgeries.
“No one can appreciate having an upper palate, a nose and lips like I do,” said Fritts.
He leans over and kisses his wife.
“That’s the best part.”