actual video here:
Donnie Fritts had to make a terrible choice: his face or his life.
That's what doctors told him after he was diagnosed with an extremely rare, aggressive cancer called ameloblastic carcinoma that attacks facial tissue and bones. His only hope to survive was an extreme surgery that would remove his nose, upper lip and palate, part of his forehead and part of his brain.
"He could live without a face, or he could die with his face on," Sharon Fritts, Donnie's wife, told TODAY’s Ann Curry Thursday.
Donnie chose life, but survival came with a heavy price. The 12-hour surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta successfully removed his tumors — and left him with a gaping hole in the middle of his face.
‘I looked like a monster’
Donnie remembers the first time he saw his own reflection after the surgery; he was so startled he actually jumped back. "I looked terrible, I looked like a monster," he told TODAY. "If I scared my own self, what was I going to do to other people?"
Donnie and Sharon's world shrank. The man who could always make Sharon laugh was now afraid to leave the house. Rather than go out and be stared at, he found refuge in his woodworking shop in the basement, where he'd stay up all night, making birdhouses.
"People say be careful what you pray for," Donnie said. "I prayed for life, and I thought, if this is the best life is going to give me, I have made the wrong decision."
But Donnie had a secret weapon: Sharon, who never stopped believing that he was beautiful. They'd married only a few years before his diagnosis. Many times he told her to leave, to get on with her own life; she always stayed.
"He is so beautiful. I still see the man I saw when we walked down the aisle," Sharon told Curry. "His beauty is he's a giving person, a loving person."
Sharon said she'll always remember how they both laughed through their wedding ceremony, and the look Donnie gave her as they were standing at the altar.