Categories: Stories

Meet The Man Who Gave Up His Face to Save His Life

He was known as the "man with a hole in his face"

In this day and age, people are becoming so obsessed with physical appearances that some even go through great lengths just to enhance their looks. Some people do this to feel better about themselves.

Donnie Fritts, a former carpenter and a father-of-three, also searched for a way to change his appearance. But what he needed was not an ordinary cosmetic surgery- he actually needed a new face that would help him live a better quality of life. He needed a new face so he can eat better and go out in public without being feared by children or ridiculed by adults. He needed a new face because a very rare disease left him without a nose, upper palate, upper lip, and also took a part of his frontal lobe.

Meet Donnie, this was how he looked like before the cancer.

In 2000, this handsome man met and married his second wife, Sharon.

After two years of marrying his wife, Donnie started experiencing a severe and unusual toothache. He told Sharon that it felt like all his teeth were “coming loose”. He went to a dentist who then referred him to another physician, and was told that what he probably had was sinus infection. The physician only prescribed him with antibiotics.

Donnie with his kind and loving wife, Sharon.

The pain only got worse and he couldn’t eat. A total of 14 doctors had evaluated him, but all of them gave the same diagnosis. Until one morning, Sharon heard him cry from the bathroom. His nose had become red and raw. Blood and pus poured out from his nose as he touched it. When he inserted his finger on his nose, a huge chunk of bloody flesh fell out into the sink and it smelled like rotten flesh. This brought the couple to tears; both were horrified.

Donnie’s nose was red and swollen.

In December 23, 2002, Donnie went to Atlanta and a specialist there had him undergo a biopsy. This was when he was finally diagnosed with maxillary amenoblastic carcinoma- a disease so rare that to date, only 30 cases are documented worldwide.

The only way to save his life was to completely remove all the affected tissues in his face. So he had to choose…to save his face and lose his life, or to lose his face to save his life. According to Donnie,

“I hit rock bottom. I was only 49 but I would never properly kiss my wife again. I’d never chew another meal, may not be able to talk, sing, work or even see. I wasn’t sure if life after surgery would even be worth living. I thought about just letting the cancer kill me.”

Donnie was faced with such a hard decision. After all, no one could tell how his life would be after the surgery. He wanted to give up and let the cancer kill him, but Sharon, his loyal and devoted wife wouldn’t let him give up.

“But I knew Sharon wouldn’t allow it. And I couldn’t leave her on her own. I knew I had to do what I could to survive this.”, he added.

In August 2003, with only a two-percent chance of surviving, Donnie Fritts underwent a 12-hour surgery where three stage four tumors had been removed, sadly along with most of his face (fortunately, his eyes were saved). When the anesthesia wore out, he caught a reflection of himself and was horrified at what he saw- he thought he saw a monster, he didn’t recognize his own face.

After the 12-hour surgery…

He caught a reflection of himself and was horrified at what he saw.

Photo credit: Donnie Fritts
He thought he saw a monster, he didn’t even recognize his own face.

Because he lost his upper palate, Donnie still had difficulties eating so he had to put his fingers in his mouth in order to chew the food.  He also had to wear a dust mask whenever he goes out in public so as not to frighten the children who looked at him. It broke his heart to see them look at him like he’s a monster. And although he gradually withdrew from the society, his wife Sharon, never left his side and loved him in spite of how he looked.

The cancer left a terrifying hole in Donnie’s face.

Over the course of six years, Donnie required at least 35 surgeries just to stabilize his face. In 2009, Sharon came across a prosthetic expert who designed a face for her husband.

However, Donnie contracted a bacterial infection days only after it was fitted, and the infection almost killed him. He stayed in the ICU for nearly two weeks. Fortunately, he was able to survive that ordeal.

He also contracted and fought a total of four infections in the face in 2011.

In 2012, a new face was created for Donnie.

However, the doctors had to implant metal cages on his face to hold the prosthesis in place. Although he’s still vulnerable to infections, Donnie’s second face allowed him to go out on a date and kiss his wife for the first time again after almost 10 years.

There are metal cages implanted on his face to hold the prosthesis in place.

Donnie’s second face allowed him to date and kiss his wife for the first time again after 10 years.

Photo credit: Donnie Fritts
I could only guess that these are tears of joy…

Photo credit: Donnie Fritts
After 10 years, Donnie was able to kiss his wife again.

Photo credit: Barcroft media

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H/T:, DailymailUK, Body Bizaare via TLC

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