Medical setbacks for 'Man Without a Face'

12:26 AM, Jun 29, 2013   |    comments
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Sharon and Donnie Fritts, at their home in Calhoun, GA., Friday, June 28, 2013

CALHOUN, Ga. -- "I was on Cloud Nine."

That was then, three years ago.

That's when Donnie Fritts of Calhoun, who lost most of his face to cancer, was showing us his new, prosthetic face.

"When we got it, we were very excited," he recalled Friday. "I tell people all the time, it felt so good to feel normal, and that's what I felt."

A miracle for him, and his wife, Sharon.

| "Man Without A Face" May 25, 2010 |

But, since then --

"I've had a lot of setbacks."

Donnie and Sharon describe the setbacks as tests of their faith.

"Really kind of knocked the wind out of me there," he said. "I told people, I said, we can't choose our trials, but we can choose our attitude. And I've tried to have a good attitude through all this."

It's been tough, he said, to have a good attitude.

Setback:  Part of his new, space-age prosthetics ended up leading to five, major infections.

"We went to a doctor and he said, 'You have five infections,' and he said 'three of them are killers.' And I said, 'Well, what are my chances?' I remember he dropped his head kind of down, and said 'I don't know.'"

Setback:  He's been in the hospital repeatedly, for extended periods.

Setback:  He can no longer wear the face that he said finally made him feel almost like his young, pre-cancerous self -- normal.

And in the past year, Donnie sometimes thought that his prayers were not even reaching heaven.

"My attitude was starting to change a little bit. I was getting discouraged. Actually a little depressed."

As if he hadn't felt that before?

It was in 2003 when Donnie felt a bump in his mouth -- it was cancer and it raced through Donnie's face. And the surgery to save his life took away his face.

Seven years later he received the specially-made palate and nose to help him eat and talk -- and breathe.

But within five months his body rejected the prosthetics.

"Yeah, you get down, but you can't stay down. I've got a wife that, when I get down, she encourages me to get back up and keep on fighting. I have a God that is going to give me all the strength I need. He said that we'd be more than conquerers. So I got my church family, I got my regular family. And I try to stay around people that are positive, I try to be positive, and just hope that, somehow, this blesses someone."

Doctors are trying to devise a new prosthetic face for Donnie.

"They're really not sure of what to do, right now," Sharon said. "And that's what's taking so long, is they're trying to find out how to do it this time with success, without the risk of infection. I found that when everything broke this last time, it was very scary for me. And I found that you really have to lean on the Word of God. I read the Psalms a lot. Because it seems like David feels like we feel, sometimes. Or he felt like we felt sometimes. I read the Bible a lot, we hug a lot, we pray together a lot, and we're just, [Donnie's] here for me through this. I'm not just here for him, but he's my rock through this. Because I've never seen anyone that's went through this. I've never been through anything like this." She turned toward Donnie. "But I thank you for being here for me."

"We all face stuff in our life," Donnie said. "I used to wear a white mask all the time, and it was hard to breathe with it, and I tried to wear it to keep from getting allergies and stuff. But I quit wearing it. I felt like I was hiding behind something. My story is to fight no matter what situation you're in. Fight with everything you have. Just believe that the good Lord's going to bring you through it."

Medicare and other insurance coverage will not pay for the cost of the reconstructive prosthetics he needs, "it's considered elective" cosmetics, Sharon said. "I write to Medicare every week, sometimes two and three times a week" trying to make the case that the prosthetic palate and nose are medically justified and should be covered, just as, she said, artificial eyes and breasts, for example, are covered.

More and more, Donnie is asked to speak to community groups and churches about his faith in the face of despair.

"We've gotten so many emails and phone calls," Sharon said, "from people who said, 'I just didn't think I could make it, and now I think I can.'  Because the pressures of life are hard on everyone. Just normal, everyday life is hard for a lot of people. And to see him making it, with normal, everyday life and this, gives you hope."

Helping and saving others.

Which strengthens Donnie-- the man without a face, but with a warrior's heart, who believes he's still on Cloud Nine, with every reason in heaven and on earth to smile.

"I tell you what, I can hardly contain it, sometimes. People have given so much to us and been so kind and generous to us, praying and everything. I mean, what a blessing."

There is a community cancer fund set up for Donnie Fritts to help pay for the huge portion of his medical bills that is not covered by his insurance:

172 Brian St.
Calhoun, GA 30701
Contact Eleanor Silvers 706-629-5469
or Pastor Norris Sexton 706-629-6742

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