On behalf of

Marisha
Dotson

due to legal developments, this page is now a work in progress…

BROKEN
   PROMISES

Cancer survivor Marisha Dotson was ecstatic when a television show promised her free dental work and reconstructive surgery. Now, one year later, she worries it was all too good to be true. 

by CHRISTINE NOEL

On September 19, 2017, “The Doctors” television show aired a segment featuring Marisha Dotson, a stage IV squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) survivor who, at that point, had endured nearly 50 surgeries in an effort to stop her cancer. These surgeries included removing her nose, reconstructing her nose (followed by removal of the reconstruction when the cancer spread again), her upper jawbone, eight top teeth, and the roof of her mouth. 

“The Doctors” and its sponsors reached out to Marisha to invite her to appear on their show. promised Marisha, whose ONLY family is a little brother and who lives in poverty, free dental work and reconstructive surgery. As of January 2019, not only have the show and sponsors failed to deliver on these promises, but their actions/inactions have actually harmed Marisha, caused her to suffer actual physical pain, and cost her over $20k in hospital bills.

Watch the 1.5-minute and 10-minute videos here

IT’S AN EARLY MORNING IN AUGUST 2017, and a television producer is coaching Marisha Dotson, who sits backstage on the set of “The Doctors” television talk show.

When Marisha goes on stage in a few moments, the producer explains, she will be given a big surprise, and it would be helpful if she could cry and “be emotional” in front of the studio audience.

The segment’s title, “Skin Cancer Took My Nose,” is an understatement: most of Marisha’s nose has been surgically removed due to aggressive cancer. But it’s when she opens her mouth that you see she is missing most of her top front teeth, a portion of her upper jaw, and the entire roof of her mouth. An open cavity—a hole—extends all the way up to her sinuses. She needs a special device just to swallow.

On stage, Dr. Andrew Ordon, “The Doctors’” resident plastic surgeon, walks the audience through the complex surgeries Marisha needs to reduce her pain, reconstruct her nose, and restore some semblance of a normal life.

As for the surprise? The show has reached out to plastic surgeons and a cosmetic dentist, and Marisha will receive all of the reconstructive surgery and dental work she needs — for free.

A bewildered smile grows as Marisha realizes the magnitude of what has just been promised her.

The doctors look to her for a reaction.

“Well,” she says, “first I want to ask, is this real?”

The main host, Dr. Travis Stork, excitedly points to the audience, where the cosmetic dentist sits. “Dr. Willardsen!” He grins. “Come up here. Show her that it’s real!”

The dentist flashes a perfect smile and walks onto the stage to hug Marisha.

Marisha beams. 

It wasn’t real.

The following is a much-condensed version of events. A smattering of photos is at the end of the story. A full narrative of Marisha’s story is to come.

On September 19, 2017, “The Doctors” television show aired a segment featuring Marisha Dotson, a stage IV squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) survivor who, at that point, had endured nearly 50 surgeries in an effort to stop her cancer. These surgeries included removing her nose, reconstructing her nose (followed by removal of the reconstruction when the cancer spread again), her upper jawbone, eight top teeth, and the roof of her mouth.

“The Doctors” and its sponsors reached out to Marisha to invite her to appear on their show. They promised Marisha, whose ONLY family is her little brother (her dad was abusive/she has no contact and her mother died when she was 15) and who lives in poverty, free dental work and reconstructive surgery.

The show flew her out to Las Vegas to meet with the doctors who promised her care. For a multi-day trip, they got her a “no carry-on allowed” economy ticket, but she didn’t know that until she got to the gate and had to pay to bring her bag on. Despite her requests to be moved, she was put up in a smoky casino hotel. This is annoying for anyone, but for someone who has no natural filter between her upper respiratory system and the outside world, it was catastrophic: she developed a horrible infection that later resulted in $20k in medical bills from scans and eventual surgery. The show also didn’t tell her that she’d be expected to pay for her own food in Vegas (she did share a plate of ravioli that the dentist’s PR person bought), and, as someone whose food budget is roughly $5/day, trying to find affordable food on the Vegas Strip was next to impossible.

After Vegas, Marisha returned home to wait for the dentist who promised to “make her beautiful” to complete a prosthesis that she needed and which the surgeons said would be the “obvious first step.” This was in Oct. 2017. The prosthesis should have taken 2-4 months from start to finish to complete.

She spent the next year trying to get updates from the dentist’s PR person and the show. Over the course of 10-11 months, she was told things that seem contradictory: the prosthesis was complete (February); they were still looking for a lab to make it (July). In between, Marisha checked in every month, and every time, she was told some variation of, “Let me see if the dentist is ready for you to come back!” or “I’m trying to coordinate with ‘The Doctors’ producers,” and/or “How about we get you here next month?”

Marisha expressed, repeatedly, how critically she needed this device (it basically serves as the roof of her mouth; without it, she can’t swallow/eat/drink/speak or live outside of a hospital — and the current prosthetic she had was literally falling apart and causing her excruciating pain).

After a year and no indication that anything would be changing, Marisha expressed her disappointment in a Facebook post. She hadn’t heard an update in nearly a month. The day after she made that post, she received a voicemail message from the dentist’s PR person who said “We have all seen your nasty post on Facebook” and how she was “astonished by what you wrote.”

“The Doctors” show has been in touch with Marisha a bit over the past several months, but they won’t communicate anything substantive in writing and just keep trying to get her to talk on the phone. They’ve also left voicemails saying, “[the dentist] is supposed to be arranging everything with you.”

The prosthetic device Marisha needed is typically, though not necessarily, made by a prosthodontist with maxillofacial experience. The dentist from the show is a cosmetic/general dentist.

VIDEO: Marisha on “The Doctors,” part 1 DELETED BY TRUE DENTISTRY/THE DOCTORS

I

It all started with a pimple — or what looked like a pimple — on the tip of her nose.

It was the summer of 2014. Marisha was an uninsured college student, so when the “pimple” began to grow, so she went to a campus health clinic. She was told it was a simple infection, given antibiotic ointment, and sent on her way.

The spot didn’t go away. Marisha used what would be her last paycheck, along with borrowed money from a friend, to cover a dermatology visit. She had to wait nearly a month for that appointment, and in that time, the spot on her nose grew to the size of a dime.

The dermatologist didn’t mince words: she told Marisha that there was a good chance the spot was cancer.

In July 2014, doctors diagnosed Marisha with a rare, very aggressive squamous cell carcinoma — skin cancer. Marisha’s case was one of the few skin cancer cases not due to sun exposure.

She quickly underwent a special type of surgery to remove the tumor.

In Mohs surgery, a paper-thin layer of skin—the concerning spot plus a margin around the edge,—is sliced away, frozen, and analyzed under a microscope.

This process is repeated while the patient waits, until the doctor finds a layer free of cancer cells. It is the preferred surgical option for areas where a cosmetic appearance is important, as it is a “tissue-sparing” surgery that is less likely than traditional surgery to leave patients disfigured.

Because Marisha’s tumor was so large, her surgeon Marisha was bandaged up and waited while each sample was analyzed. But Marisha’s doctors kept finding cancer in each layer they removed. The first cut took the entire outside tumor with it and around it. Usually, people only have two or three stages, that’s what each cut and analysis is. Marisha had 12. The most stages and hours spent in surgery than anyone that they have ever done.

“Every time [my team of nurses] had to come back and take out more, they were crying,” Marisha said.

Because Mohs surgery is done while the patient is wide awake, Marisha was aware as each layer was sliced away. The more than 300 numbing injections in her raw, bleeding tissue barely touched the pain.

At the end of the 16-hour so-called “tissue sparing” surgery, Marisha was handed a mirror. Over half of her nose, cartilage and nasal tissue were gone.

“I was just staring at the enormous hole where part of my face used to be,” she says.

Four years later, Marisha still has nightmares about the pain and the burning flesh. “And everyone crying,” she says. “I’ll never get over it.”

There is a peculiar link between red hair color and response to anesthesia. Many redheads have a genotype that makes it difficult for an anesthesiologist to put them under; the average redhead needs about 20% more anesthesia than their brunette counterparts. Too little anesthesia and the patient will wake up during surgery from the pain; too much and there’s a risk they’ll slip into a coma and die.

Redheads also don’t get as much relief from local anesthesia — numbing shots — as non-redheads do.

Marisha’s face, with a dusting of freckles across her cheeks, is framed by what is indisputably auburn hair.

The Mohs surgery that took most of Marisha’s nose from her was later followed by a nine-hour reconstructive surgery. Cartilage was removed from her ear and skin from her scalp was flapped down to recreate nasal tissues, she wrote on her GoFundMe page. In the coming months, she needed five other revision surgeries on the skin graft tissue.

When the skin graft became infected, Marisha wrote, she nearly died. It made her extremely sick and she was largely bedridden for three months. This was followed by radiation therapy, five days per week for three months.

To make the radiation mask, heated hard plastic was poured onto Marisha’s face, and she had to sit still for an hour while it set. She had radiation treatments five days per week for three months, which required her body from the chest up to be bolted to a table. “I found out in the worst way I’m claustrophobic.”

The radiation And then imagine the worst ulcers possible all over your face, nose, inside your nose and throat. I was absolutely miserable.

“I am still learning how to deal with how people react to my face and its changes,” Marisha wrote after the reconstruction. “Grieving my lost nose has been harder than it sounds. It wasn’t just a nose. It was cancer and so many other things at the same time.”

In August of 2016, Marisha would learn that most of her suffering had been for nothing: the cancer was back, and it was widespread.

In the summer of 2017, a journalist named Josh Saunders comes across Marisha’s story and pitches her as a potential guest to “The Doctors.” He sends the producers links to articles about Marisha, including articles that link to her GoFundMe page, on which Marisha has gone into excruciating detail about her cancer story, financial hardships, and the surgeries and subsequent pain.

Just after lunchtime on August 4th, Marisha receives a Facebook message from someone named Mackenzie Kolling:

Hi Marisha, I’m a producer on The Doctors TV show and came across your story – could you please contact me at [email address]?

Marisha, who is passionate about increasing awareness of her rare cancer — and familiar with the generosity often given to “Doctors” guests — sends an email.

Marisha, now 29, lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her 11-year-old miniature poodle, Oreo, and her little brother. Her father was abusive, and Marisha has a lifetime restraining order against him. Her mother passed away when Marisha was 15.

“Honestly she was the friendliest, sweetest person,” Marisha says. “She always smiled and wanted to help everyone.”

After her mother’s death, Marisha and her brother were sent to live with an uncle and his girlfriend, who Marisha describes as “evil.” After several months, they were moved to foster care and lived with an older couple.

“They were awful,” Marisha says of their foster parents, who kicked her out when she was 17, and kicked her brother out two years later, when he turned 17.

Marisha was homeless for her entire senior year of high school, worked a full-time job that year, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. She managed to see her brother nearly every day.

Her life for the next few years only grew “more tragic,” she says, but declines to elaborate.

Throughout college, at the University of Tennessee, Marisha consistently held three to four jobs at a time and used her free time to study. In the midst of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, Marisha graduated from college with a triple major in sociology, psychology and political science. She received a scholarship for graduate school, but also applied to law school, because, she says, “I couldn’t make up my mind.”

Though she has nearby relatives, Marisha considers herself to be an orphan.

“No one from my blood family came to any of my hospital stay for visits. It was always friends I’ve made.” And any time she’s needed rides to appointments or post-surgical care, she’s had to ask friends or people from her church.

Even though her mother has been gone for 11 years, Marisha says the last few years, she’s missed her the most. “Going through treatment and surgeries, and almost dying alone is very difficult,” she says. “People always assume you have parents.”

In October 2015, Marisha learned that the cancer was back, and it was widespread. 

Her only chance of improving her odds of survival, doctors told her, was to have an aggressive surgery to remove the entire nasal region all the way back to the throat, all bones, roof of mouth, upper jaw, and upper teeth.

“I’ll be left with a huge defect hole [in the entire top of her mouth] that won’t be reconstructed,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page, “but it’s worth it to me to have a chance.”

The surgery would cost close to 100 thousand dollars, and the hospital wouldn’t perform the life-saving procedure until Marisha — who was unable to work — paid the deductible and down payment.

“When you have rapidly growing tumors, that’s insane,” she told me. “Time equals life.”

Marisha was able to raise the funds through donations from friends, fellow churchgoers, and the kindness of strangers who stumbled upon YouTube videos Marisha had made, chronicling her journey.

In September 2016, doctors surgically removed Marisha’s newly-healed reconstructed nose; upper jaw bone; left sinus bone and tissue; septum; eight teeth; the roof of her mouth and hard palate; nasal floor bone; and tissue between her gums and mouth.

After the surgery, she was given two things.

First, a prosthesis called an obturator, which basically looks like a retainer with teeth attached to it. It serves as the roof of her mouth and she needs it to swallow, eat and talk.

And, second, a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Marisha’s day-to-day life largely revolves around managing her health. She has a painful condition called lymphedema in her legs and feet, which causes them to swell with fluid. Every morning, as soon as her legs begin to swell, she massages them to manually move the fluid out as quick as possible.

“Once inflammation sets in, it is really hard to get it down,” she says.

Because her sinuses are exposed and she is prone to nosebleeds, Marisha needs constant humidity and irrigates her nasal cavity with saline solution every hour, and up to five or more times per hour if it’s irritated. When she feels a migraine coming on, which happens every few days, she lies down in a dark room with her humidifier, a heated face mask, and water bottles to stay hydrated. She does frequent steam breathing treatments for her sinuses. Since she lacks the natural filtration a nose and hard/soft palate provide, Marisha is prone to infections and illnesses. A common cold is downright hellish: since she can’t blow her nose, mucous stays in her sinuses and becomes impacted, which can progress to the point of requiring surgery.

Several times per day, she removes her obturator to clean it. The obturator has wires that rub on exposed nerves in her mouth, and it causes constant bleeding sores and ulcers in her mouth that don’t heal. Because she is vulnerable to the whims of changing temperatures, humidity, and air pressure fluctuations, Marisha stays inside if she is feeling poorly, so she can manage at home without exposing herself to the elements and other people.

(L) Daily personal care items; Marisha’s Instagram posts from 8/13/17 (C) and 8/14/17 (R)

Marisha receives a small disability check that doesn’t cover her basic living expenses. She lives well below the poverty line. After paying rent each month, she has to figure out which utilities to pay, and which will have to wait till the following month.

While Marisha was lucky enough to have one of many reconstructive operations covered pro bono, she says it’s a common misconception that there are charities or grants available to people in her position. Aside from one $400 grant while she was undergoing radiation, she is either too young or her cancer is too rare for her to qualify for every program.

She has had to rely on GoFundMe donations for her surgery down payments, biopsy fees, and dental fees. These have come from friends, fellow churchgoers, and strangers who read about Marisha’s cancer story online.

“In the end,” Marisha says, “begging people to help was the only thing that saved my life.”

Marisha sends the producers her medical records, forty-odd close-up photos of her mouth and nose, and explains that when she is in Los Angeles for the taping, she will need to be allowed time to attend to her physical care. Marisha stresses that she cannot be given a middle seat for her flights: the middle seat has no leg room, which makes circulation and leg massage impossible, so more fluid pools in the legs and causes swelling and pain.

August 14, 2017. Marisha is just about to head to the airport when her phone rings. It’s a producer at “The Doctors.” The producer tells Marisha to go home; Marisha later learns that they needed to give her slot on the show to a heroin addict, but promise to get her on a flight the following week.

 

When Marisha’s plane touches down in glittering Los Angeles just before noon one week later, her feet are so swollen that she can’t put her shoes on. She walks through the airport in socks, on legs that have ballooned up to more than twice their normal size. (The show booked her a middle seat for both legs of her flight and said they couldn’t change it.)

A runner from the show picks Marisha up. The driver tells her they have to go straight to a doctors appointment. When Marisha says that she hasn’t eaten since the previous afternoon, the runner calls Stephanie Woodward, an assistant producer for the show, who says to pick up something from McDonald’s. The driver runs into a McDonald’s and returns with a small fry and a milkshake, which he gives to Marisha. When Marisha, carrying her luggage and the food, arrives for her appointment, she is told the doctors’ office has a no food policy. From there, Marisha is shuffled back and forth for appointments.

Later that day, Marisha texts Stephanie Woodward photos of her swollen feet, hoping to slow the pace in the coming days, so she can take care of herself.

“I was so tired, thirsty, and hungry,” Marisha later told me. “My body hurt, my feet were the size of Texas, and my face hurt.” 

Stephanie Woodward says she is sorry, but the schedule can’t be slowed down, because the live portion of the show will be taped soon.

By the time Marisha is able to check into her hotel, ice her feet and order food, 15 hours have passed since she was able to irrigate her sinus cavity (which she normally does up to five times per hour), and she hasn’t had a full meal in 24 hours.

The Sheraton Hotel in Universal Studios, where Marisha is booked for three nights, is under construction, which means there is dust and debris. In an online review written that same month, the reviewer notes, “Construction dust and debris all over the room…clothes in drawers came out covered in fine dust.”

Marisha panics.

“I have no protective layer tissues or bones protecting my open sinus and oral cavity,” she explained to me. “Everything I breathe goes straight in with no natural filtering. Smoke and dust damage the inner tissue membranes as well as cause inflammation and infections, which are very difficult to treat and get rid of for me, as I can’t process the infection out.”

Marisha calls Stephanie Woodward that evening and tells her that her upper respiratory system can’t tolerate a place that’s so dusty. Stephanie says she’s sorry, and wishes she could do something about it, but there are no other options.

For three days, Marisha’s life is a whirlwind of appointments with doctors and dentists, CT scans and x-rays, all interspersed with filming the background portion of her segment. She is whisked away from her hotel shortly after sunrise and returns at the end of the day, sometimes long after the late summer sun has set. Marisha is exhausted and, even though she expressly said before coming to LA that she would need time to irrigate her sinuses, to clean her obturator, and so on, she is given no time for any of those.

With the exception of the McDonald’s order and a salad on her final day, “The Doctors” does not provide Marisha with any food during each of these 12+ hour days. It is summer in Los Angeles, and the only water she recalls being given during any of the days is a four-ounce bottle on the day of the live taping. 

The show gives Marisha a nominal room service allowance at the Sheraton of roughly $100. Breakfast at the hotel starts at $21 and room service tacks on a service fee per order. Marisha’s credit runs out a day and a half in, and after that, she has to purchase food with her debit card. The hotel has the only food in walking distance and a plate of spaghetti is $25.

At home in Tennessee, Marisha’s grocery budget is $300 per month, and that includes food for her brother. This works out to $5 each per day. “Sometimes it goes over depending on the price of food,” Marisha says, “and how hungry we are.”

Marisha has a friend loan her money via PayPal, so she can buy food in LA. For medical reasons, Marisha can only drink filtered bottled water. When she tells a hotel employee that she has run out of money, he gives her bottled water for free.

The morning the final portion of Marisha’s segment is to be taped, she gets a bloody nose. It takes a while to get it under control, so she doesn’t have time to blow dry her hair before a car arrives to take her to the studio.

“The Doctors'” episode chronicles Marisha’s cancer journey. Flashes of photos show the progression as she narrates: A spot on her nose, it grows, it reddens, it’s covered by a bandage. In the next photo, a selfie, Marisha appears shell-shocked, trying to make sense of the image reflected back at her in the phone screen: two-thirds of her nose has been sliced away.

When a photo of her mother, who passed away in 2005, appears, Marisha says, “My face, I think, is important to me because I lost my mom and the only thing I have left of her are pictures. The older I get, the more I look just like her, so [with each subsequent surgery], I felt like I was losing a piece of my mom.”

In front of the audience, Dr. Travis Stork, the show’s main host, asks Marisha what the most difficult thing is for her.

”I struggle every day with the pain,” Marisha says. “There’s some days it’s really hard to get out of bed, because my mouth and my nose are hurting so much.”

A clip is shown from Marisha’s appointment with Dr. Andrew Ordon, a plastic surgeon who has been on the show since its inception. He asks her to remove her prosthesis — the obturator — and the sight is jarring: a young woman with clear skin and bright eyes removing not only her teeth, but the roof of her mouth, to reveal an open cavity.

Back in front of the audience, Dr. Ordon describes the surgeries that Marisha needs. Tissue can be brought in to create a protective lining inside her nose and mouth, and, he says, the cosmetic aspects need to be addressed as well. Marisha needs reconstructive work on her nose, including correcting a dime-sized hole where her left nostril used to be, and improving the appearance of her upper lip, which surgery has resulted in being tethered.

“It’s doable,” Dr. Ordon says. Not only that, but, he says, the show “reached out to Anson, Edwards & Higgens Plastic Surgery Group in Las Vegas and they’re willing to provide you with all of this facial reconstruction that you need, all free of charge.”

Dr. Stork will also surprise Marisha with ten free counseling sessions from Doctor on Demand. But before that, he references Marisha’s problems with eating and drinking, and the connection between her nasal passages and the roof of her mouth, and her teeth.

“We’ve reached out to cosmetic dentist Joe Willardsen,” he says, “and he has something he’d like to say to you as well.”

The camera pans to Dr. Willardsen. “I’m very honored to help give you your smile back, free of charge as well,” he says. He, along with the oral surgeons and the plastic surgeons, are going to make her beautiful.

[I think it is important to point out I explicitly asked them on tape if this was true and if they meant it. It really shows how much they played it up.]

Dr. Stork says that Marisha’s case is going to be a full team effort. “At the end of the day, you deserve this,” he says. “You deserve this.”

VIDEO: Marisha on “The Doctors,” part 2  DELETED BY TRUE DENTISTRY & “THE DOCTORS”

The taping wraps by 9:30 am, and after a quick tour of Universal Studios and a salad, Marisha and her luggage are taken from the studio to LAX. Her flight doesn’t leave until 10:40 that night.

The day prior, Marisha texted Stephanie Woodward:

”It’s still showing my seat as 29B, which is a middle seat. I thought [another “Doctors” staff] said it was changed? I don’t want to complain, but I had a really hard time with the middle seat on the way here…Like I couldn’t move and my feet swelled up, and if I have a nose bleed, I’ll be stuck. Sorry to bother you!”

Her seat isn’t changed.

One month after Marisha’s episode airs, “The Doctors” fly her from Knoxville to Las Vegas to meet with the dentist, Joe Willardsen, and the surgeons from Anson, Edwards & Higgins Plastic Surgery Group. Her contact person for the trip, is Dr. Willardsen’s PR person, Christine Mango. Christine meets Marisha in Vegas.

A text exchange between Marisha and Christine prior to the trip:

Marisha: What should I pack? Will my teeshirts and jeans be alright?

Christine: Yes. Maybe bring something nice for dinner or show. Nothing too fancy.

Marisha again requested that the show only book her aisle seats; she is assigned middle seats for both legs of her flight to Las Vegas.

When boarding her plane in Knoxville, Marisha is stopped by the gate agent who points out that — even though Marisha will be in Las Vegas for five days — her ticket doesn’t allow for a carry-on. If Marisha wants to bring her bag board, she will have to pay a $50 fee.

Marisha’s heart sinks.

“I make a set fixed amount on disability,” she later said. “I only have enough to pay rent, and some utilities. There is no extra. I have to stagger which bills I can pay month to month.”

She hands over her debit card.

Marisha doesn’t know it yet, but she will spend nearly an entire month’s worth of disability income this week — and during this trip she will develop an infection that will ultimately end up costing her thousands of dollars in medical bills.

“The Doctors” have booked her at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, which allows smoking in the casino and on select floors of the hotel.

A Google search turns up an online review of The Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, titled “Up in Smoke:”

All the good attributes of this hotel are overshadowed by the stench of cigarette smoke that wafts throughout the entire building. As smoking is permitted on the Casino gaming floor in [Las Vegas], smoke odour is not uncommon in most hotels/resorts. This property however is probably the worst offender in my opinion.

Everything Marisha breathes goes straight in with no natural filtering. Smoke exposure causes inflammation and infections. Any sinus drainage remains and gets compacted in the open maxillary sinus wall, as Marisha cannot blow her nose. Even initial contact with smoke causes days of inflammation and swelling, lymph node swelling, nose bleeds, migraines and further compromises her already compromised immune system. The inflammation and swelling in her nose also cause her exposed nerves to overact, causing even more extreme pain.

Just as she is resistant to anesthesia, painkillers don’t have much of an impact either.

“I try to explain it because people think it’s no big deal,” Marisha says, “but I have to breathe in everything with nothing lessening the impact of irritants. It gets stuck in my sinus cavity, even with trying to irrigate it out with the saline solution. It is very important.

Marisha asks both Mckenzie and Stephanie over the phone about being moved to a hotel that isn’t smoky but is told her accommodations cannot be changed. She complains about the smoke to Christine Mango.

Christine suggests Marisha “try not to breathe in the smoke” and tells her that it’s “a good thing you brought your face mask.”

Marisha has appointments throughout the week with all of the doctors who promised her their services on the show.

The offices are close to each other, but an Uber ride from her hotel takes as long as forty-five minutes one-way, depending on traffic. Marisha is surprised when she has to pay for several Ubers to and from appointments.

The surgeons are uncertain the reconstructive surgery promised on the show will be feasible. They consult with Dr. Willardsen and all agree that the treatment plan should be a series of obturators with the goal of steadily pushing back the alignment of Marisha’s top teeth. The hope, they tell Marisha, is that slowly allowing the lip muscle to have more room to relax downwards over time will give the surgeons enough room for surgical reconstruction.

The obturator, the surgeons write in their notes, “is the obvious first step.” And they say they will help Dr. Willardsen with whatever he needs.

Dr. Willardsen says he will provide the necessary series of obturators. He tells Marisha that the entire process (meaning, the full series of obturators) might take around a year, but promises that they’ll get through it together. Dr. Willardsen says he will even throw in straightening Marisha’s bottom teeth a little, since they’ve shifted because she can’t wear a bottom retainer. 

Dr. Willardsen takes digital impressions of her mouth, which will be used to make the first obturator, which Marisha is told will be ready in a matter of weeks.

During a separate consultation Marisha has with Dr. Carlos Letelier, an oral surgeon who did not make Marisha any promises on the show, the surgeon also doubts that reconstructive surgery will be possible unless Marisha’s tethered lip is able to move down. He says a new obturator ought to be the next step.

In addition to alleviating some of Marisha’s constant pain, working through the series of obturators is time-sensitive: with time, external and internal scars are likely to harden and lose pliability. The sooner Marisha receives a new obturator, she told me, the more likely it is that her tethered lip will relax down, thus increasing the chance that she will be able to have reconstructive surgery.

On the second night in Las Vegas, Christine Mango takes Marisha out for dinner.  On the way to dinner, Christine needs to take care of some personal business at Caesar’s Palace, where she is staying. Marisha mentions that she’d like to look around while Christine goes inside, but Christine insists that Marisha stand in line with her while waits to upgrades her account to ”Diamond Tier” status.

Christine and Marisha walk through the Pavillion, and Marisha asks Christine to take a picture of her at the Poseidon fountain. They split an order of ravioli at a diner. This is the extent of the evening, and the only meal Marisha will be provided with the entire week.

For the rest of the trip, Marisha stretches meals, stretches a cake she bought after throwing down $5 playing her first ever casino game at the beginning of the week, and eats whatever cheap or free snacks she can find. She is grateful for the hotel concierge who sneaks her free bottles of water.

Marisha’s flight out of Las Vegas doesn’t depart until close to midnight, but she needs to check out of her hotel room at 11:00 am. She is sick and asks for a late check-out. Christine Mango arranges for Marisha to have a 3:00 pm check-out, which still has her at the airport for about 8 hours before her flight.

Health-wise, it is risky for Marisha to wait for hours in a public space with so many germs with her compromised immune system. There is nowhere in an airport for her body to rest appropriately from stress.

The show’s producers say they cannot change her flight and do not offer to book her another hotel room so she has a place to rest for the day.

When Marisha checks out of her room on October 23rd, she has to pay a $195.99 hotel charge. The show pays for her Uber to the airport, where she waits over twelve hours for her flight.

“Because I was at the airport so long, I couldn’t treat the swelling, inflammation, migraines, bloody nose,” Marisha later said. These are normally treated by laying down in a dark room, ice packs or hot packs, depending on where the pain is, feet elevated above her heart, medicines, and by flushing her nose out and taking her dental obturator out for a few hours.

“There wasn’t anywhere for me to sit or stay, so I wandered around trying to find spots to sit.”

After already waiting so long for the flight, Marisha still has the flight and connecting flight to make.

Once again, the gate agent stops Marisha and points out that her ticket doesn’t allow a carry-on. Marisha, again, pays $50 to bring her carry-on aboard. And she is, again, given a middle seat. By the time she arrives home, she has a full-blown infection that will eventually necessitate her being admitted to the hospital and will eventually progress into an impacted sinus infection and require surgery. Marisha is responsible for these bills, which total $20k.

“I had to run in my condition to make the connecting flight, and by this time I was so tired from being unable to sleep [because] they had me waiting at the airport all day and night. Then I was on the plane with germs and high altitude air pressure that hurt. They could have made the flight and wait time at the airport less stressful on my body. By the time I got  home, everything was swollen and I had multiple infections on almost two-and-a-half days with no sleep.”

10/20/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“I had a nice talk with Dr. Joe. He wants you to know that down the road a lot more stuff can be done. It’s too soon to do major stuff until the tissue heals because of radiation, etc. I asked if they’d be able to cover the roof of your mouth and the large opening in your left nostril and all docs are pretty sure they’ll be able to do it eventually. So even if [the surgeons can’t operate until] next year they will do everything for free. In the meantime, they’ll still do many things to help with your pain and appearance. Dr. Joe said eventually he’ll give you implants so no more teeth that are attached to anything. No one needs to see you so I’m working on getting you a flight home much earlier. Xoxo”

11/01/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“I’ll work on your return to Vegas today. xo”

11/04/2017: Marisha is admitted to hospital for the infection that developed when she was in Las Vegas. She stayed one night. The cost was $4500 and included steroid IVs.

11/10/2017: Text Marisha sent to Christine Mango:

“Did you find out any information on next visit?”

11/11/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“Hi sweetheart! I’ll ask Dr. Joe if he’s ready for you to come back.

12/11/2017: Text Marisha sent to Christine Mango:

“I’m checking in to see if you’ve talked with dr. joe about what’s next?

12/13/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“everyone is shooting for january for  vegas!”

1/29/2017: Text Marisha sent to Christine Mango:

“Hey, so what was the good news?”

1/29/2018: Text received from Christine Mango:

“Hi princess! I’ve been hounding Mackenzie and her team about how to go about this. I’ll send another email asking. I’m sorry its taking so long.”

2/20/2018: Text Marisha sent to Christine Mango:

“Just checking back in to see what Mackenzie and her team are thinking tentatively?”

2/20/2018: Texts between Christine Mango and Marisha:

Christine: ”Hey princess. Just got off the phone with Dr. Joe and we decided to move forward regardless of what the show is doing. Can we chat tomorrow?”

Marisha: ”I’m not upset, and I don’t want to be a bother. I just needed to know what direction things are in because my gums can’t heal and what the time frame is looking like.”

Christine: ”I spoke with Dr. Joe earlier about this. Your prosthetic is ready. Mackenzie has been working on your travel arrangements. There’s one little surprise and I’ll be able to share tomorrow. Can we talk around 4:00 PM PST? You call me.”

Christine: ”Dr. Joe will make this happen no matter what. The prosthetic is complete. He was waiting on the little surprise. He’s calling little surprise person tomorrow because he wants to get you fitted and comfortable. Trust me. Look forward to your call tomorrow.”

Marisha: That’s a load off. I can’t wait! Yayyyy!

Christine: Do you have any plans early April that will interfere with a Vegas trip?

2/21/2018: Email Marisha sent to Jessica, a producer from “The Doctors:”

Hi! Thank you so much for contacting me. I hope you are well!

I did get your voicemail this morning, and I was planning to call back later today after my appointments.

I reached out a few times over the last few months, but never really got anything figured out.

I received a few hateful messages from trolls, and needed to make clear a few things. I’m not upset or anything, and my frustrations weren’t directed at anyone I know.

My own dental surgeon has been pestering me the last few months on making a new dental obturator since I’m way past the mark of needing a definitive piece, and I didn’t hear anything back from Dr. Joe. So I contacted Christine yesterday, and she is going to talk to me tonight about where things are. She did tell me the dental prosthetic is definite via text. I didn’t know if anything was happening or not since I hadn’t heard from anyone. I just needed to know it’s a for sure thing and a tentative timeline to tell my own doctors and friends.

I was pretty sick for awhile, but after scans and tests, it’s an infection that refuses to go away. Still cancer free thankfully!

Again, I know the show stays busy. I just didn’t know where things stood since I hadn’t heard from either team in a while.

2/21/2018: As instructed, Marisha calls Christine, who says she can’t talk because she is trying to eat a burger and the braces she (Christine) has hurt her mouth. Christine tells Marisha about how braces are “the worst.”


Marisha agrees that braces are uncomfortable (she had them in high school). In an effort to empathize, she mentions to Christine that she is now unable to eat most things — or even chew. Marisha says that Christine grew defensive and passive-aggressive. “It was like she was angry I said anything, because she just wanted to complain about how her mouth hurt from her braces with no input from me at all,” Marisha later said of the conversation.

And then she “said she shouldn’t just ever say anything about her mouth around me, and I am like, wait a second. I was only trying to agree with you [that braces] hurt, but also say it isn’t the end of the world, and she [abruptly] told me she had to go. And that’s why I apologized because I still needed a working relationship with her even though she was the one being mean.”

The following text exchange ensued that evening:

Marisha: Please don’t be offended. I feel bad now, lol. I wasn’t comparing or anything. I just wanted you to know you can laugh if you wanted, and that I know how weird it is thinking people are judging how you eat. Thanks for your hard work and awesomeness.

Christine: I know sweetie. It was insensitive of me to even bring up. I have no right to complain. You probably would give anything to have my problem rather than yours. I’m sorry.

Marisha: Treat me like any normal person, lol. It’s ok to complain about things that hurt. And I’m pretty lucky really, so that’s ok too.

Christine: Good advice. It does beat the alternative. You are lucky I guess

3/2018: Balloon sinuses surgery for the infection from Vegas that lingered and developed into an impacted sinus infection. Marisha still owes $6k on. CT scan following Vegas showed growing infection and spreading.

4/18/2018: Email received from Christine Mango, in which she gives Marisha the phone number of an anaplastologist (Scott Fiscus (editors note: he is wonderful!)) in Tennessee. This is apparently the “little surprise person” she had alluded to previously.

“…please call him to schedule and coordinate. He’s in Knoxville one week out of every month so it should be fairly convenient. He and Dr. Joe have been in touch regarding the timing of your procedures.

Please let me know once you have an appointment scheduled. Once we figure out an end date with Scott [Ficscus] we’ll move forward with Dr. Joe and get you to Vegas as soon as we can.”

4/23/2018: Texts received from Christine Mango:

“Next is Vegas!”

“They’re on hiatus for a couple weeks so hard to reach. Dr. Joe has been corresponding with the prosthetic guy in your area. I’ll call him today and see what’s happening.”

5/07/2018: Marisha has an appointment with Scott Fiscus, the anaplastologist, unrelated to any dental care and unrelated to the show/Dr. Willardsen.  Marisha and/or her insurance pay all bills.

5/07/2018: Email Marisha sent to Christine Mango and Mackenzie Kolling (“The Doctors”)

I did meet with [Fiscus]. He said he could maybe work something temporary out. However, the best option is to proceed with Dr. Joe and the progression of dental pieces first. He said any new dental work or possible surgery should happen first, because that would change how anything he makes would fit.

He said . . . I needed to get back in touch with Dr. Joe about his plans for dental prosthetics.”

5/07/2018: Email from Christine Mango, sent to Marisha, Mackenzie Kolling (“The Doctors”), and Dr. Willardsen’s office:

I’ll find out when is a good time for Dr. Joe’s office for you to come to Vegas and will coordinate travel with Mackenzie. Both are copied on this email. Is your schedule pretty open Marisha?

5/15/2018: Text received from Christine Mango:

“Hi girl! Just [spoke] with Scott Fiscus and he said he’ll be finished in a couple of weeks so Vegas mid-June? Any conflicts?”

Note: as Marisha said earlier, there was no need to wait for Dr. Fiscus to be finished with anything before moving forward with the obturator

5/15/2018: Text conversation between Marisha and Christine Mango:

Christine: “I’ll get this going. Coordinating with Dr. Joe’s office right now!”

Marisha: ”We just need to make sure that my flight allows a carry on bag, and no expensive Ubers or I won’t be able to go . . .”

5/16/2018: Text received from Christine Mango:

No worries. Dr. Joe’s office is trying to get you into the Element hotel across from his office. This way his receptionist can run by and pick you up for your appts. No smoking hotel. Ill make sure you don’t have sucky flights too.

6/15/2018: Text sent from Marisha to Christine Mango:

“I just wanted to … check in on what’s going on”

6:15/2018: Texts received from Christine Mango:

“We’ll try to get you to Vegas asap.”

7/25/2018: Excerpt from email Marisha sent to Christine Mango and Mackenzie Kolling (“The Doctors”):

“It has been almost a year since it was first promised of the new dental obturator, other surgical procedures and lip treatments.

I was under the impression the dental prosthesis would have at least been ready by now the way people were talking about it. There is a prosthetics maker here in TN that can make it if Dr. Joe has run into problems with it. The one I am wearing was never meant to be worn this long, hurts like crazy, and is falling apart even more so now a year later.

I’m not complaining, but every day that goes by is another day of pain and another day we aren’t working on bringing my curled lip down.

Please let me know where we are at soon.”

7/31/18: Text Marisha sent to Christine Mango:

“I am checking in to see if you know what’s happening. You had said you spoke with Dr. Joe over a month ago now. The dental prosthesis has reached critical, so keep in the loop please about anything or any problems.”

7/31/2018: Text received from Christine Mango: 

“Hi sweetie. Will get on it today!”

7/31/18: Stephanie Woodward (“The Doctors”) emails Marisha to ask about the status of her care with Dr. Willardsen.

7/31/18: Excerpt from an email sent from Marisha to Stephanie Woodward at “The Doctors:”

It was said that the dental appliance at least would be a fast process because they know how much the post-op one is hurting me and not appropriate for long term use.

I have asked every month, sometimes twice a month since last October when I will be set up to go back to Vegas for the dental prosthesis. Sometimes I don’t even get real answers back. Or it’s always vague and then months go by. Or one date is asked if I am okay with, then that date passes and that’s the process that keeps going since November.

Then they wanted me to see Dr. Ficus here in TN that makes facial prostheses, and he could only do a little, small almost nostril thing that my insurance paid for. I told Christine back in early June that,  and she said she would talk to Dr. Joe the next day. I didn’t hear anything again. But according to Ficus, the appliance isn’t even made because they called him asking if he knew anyone who could make an obturator. Now it’s August, almost a year later.  I sent an email the 25th to both Christine and Mackenzie, no response.  I text Christine, and she finally said once again she’ll work on it today. I’m just not understanding what’s taking so long or the go-around all the time. I have scar tissue development at this point. And it’s always that Christine and Dr. Joe are going to talk the next day and set up for me to come, but then I never hear from them again until I ask about it a month later. Cycle repeats.

I reach out and ask for information all the time, but as I said, no real answers and no hard follow through.

My surgical obturator is falling apart, it gives me mouth ulcers, and I have no idea why it keeps getting brushed off. It’s a really important thing that I needed months ago.

8/02/2018: Email received from Mackenzie Kolling; Christine Mango was cc’d:

“Christine will be in touch with you shortly to give you the update and schedule an appointment.”

8/06/2018: Email received from Mackenzie Kolling, cc’d Woodward:

“Ok — I cced you on an email with Christine. Dr. Joe just moved offices so his office has been moving but Christine will reach out to you asap to coordinate a date.”

8/13/2018: Email from Christine Mango:

“Hey there- Apparently the lab Dr. Joe found that makes obturators pulled out so we just found another lab today in Utah. It’s very specialized and expensive but Dr. Joe will pay for it. There are very few dental labs in the country that make them and the few that do will only make them for their clients (dentists) because they want the repeat business. This lab is making an exception for us. Of course, Dr. Joe will be adding the veneers and fitting you for the obturator.”

(Marisha notes: I have no gums or teeth to attach a veneer to)

8/23/2018: Marisha emailed Christine Mango and Stephanie Woodward and Mackenzie Kolling (both from “The Doctors”):

“As I mentioned before, I know you said you had finally found a special lab, but at this point the piece that is in now is falling apart. I can’t wait for however much time it would take to make this happen unless it’s immediately. As I do need one right now, critically ASAP. I just want to say I am not angry or anything like that, but I do need to say I am a bit frustrated because last year it was said to me that it was ready, and then it wasn’t even made, to now needing to find alternative plans. I realize it can be difficult making plans, but a year later with no estimate on when it can be done is bit much for my condition and what I was led to believe was happening in a timely fashion for my medical needs.  I can’t express how much the current temporary surgical piece is an insufficient and painful fit as it was only meant to be worn 6 to 9 months, and now I have been waiting a year on top of the year I had already been in this piece because I was promised these services. I had every belief it would have happened months ago the way it was laid out. My obturator is my lifeline, literally. One more crack in this one, and it’s done. It was more meaningful than a promise to someone who really needed something to me. I rely on it to speak, eat, drink, talk, and to process saliva. It’s not just a regular denture. I literally can’t survive without one or interact with the world. I honestly don’t think it should have been taking this long to work something out. I know they are special and expensive, but once a place has been procured, the piece itself should only take four weeks to three months at the very most to manufacture and deliver. That is a direct quote from the prosthodontics lab that works here in TN and for most of the surrounding states as well who specialize in dentures and dental prosthetics.

With that being said, I was forced to raise funds from several people in my community for a temporary interim dental prosthesis that, even with the discounts from the prosthodontist, cost almost $4000, not including visits and adjustments in the future that are out-of-pocket. Cancer destroyed my finances too, so I am too poor for the things I need to live, like this for example. I am still making payments while it is being manufactured so I can go home with it when it is ready. In this way, this is a big expense that should have been unnecessary on my part if things has been worked out efficiently between the show and the sponsors who promised the services.

Even though I am getting the intermediate appliance, I must make clear it is only a temporary solution. I will need a definitive obturator after this one has molded for a few months. For that, I would like to be kept in mind and up-to-date with what the lab has said it can do and what kind of timeline we can shoot for on the obturator they would make, as well as when and how we are moving forward with this. For example, something like six months or nine months? That would be okay at this point since I am getting an intermediate, but I do need to know what is going on with it and a reasonable timeline goal we can shoot for to expect going forward to avoid any uncertainty and needless pain on my part. I can’t heal if I always have sores and infections weakening my immune system

I need a clear and succinct idea of what’s happening with this.”

9/20/2018: Marisha posted on Facebook:

“To reiterate, a year ago “The Doctor’s TV Show” and sponsors made a bunch of promises, got my hopes up for nothing, and used my real life painful story to their own agenda without a care to how I feel. The sponsors have done nothing. The interim obturator is being funded by my community of people who want me to have basic life functions. I am very ashamed of how “The Doctor’s TV Show ” and its sponsors have handled this.

Direct quote from website over a year ago: ‘Following a consultation with plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon, he determines that while her case is challenging, there is hope to achieve a look she will be happier with. The Doctors reached out to Anson, Edwards & Higgins Plastic Surgery Associates in Las Vegas, who have offered to provide her facial reconstruction surgery for free. Additionally, cosmetic dentist Dr. Joe Willardsen has offered her a new smile, also free of charge.’”

9/21/2018: Marisha received a voicemail message from Christine Mango:

Voicemail Message — Christine Mango — 9/21/18

“Hey Marisha, it’s Christine Mango calling. Please give me a call back as soon as possible. We have all seen your very nasty post on Facebook. And the team of 15 people that are helping you are very disappointed, and I need to discuss this with you. So give me a ring xxx-xxx-xxxx. I hope your prosthesis nose is working out for you. You know, the one that Scott did for free and everybody else that has worked on your case.  It’s just, I’m just… astonished by what you wrote. Astonished. So give me a call so we can discuss. All right, bye.”

Marisha’s clarification regarding the above mention of the prosthesis “Scott did for free:”

“[Christine Mango] mentioned Scott Fiscus that did the nose slip piece (a small prosthesis that covers a hole in Marisha’s nose). First of all, all she did was talk to him and then talk to me about him. I called his office and set up the appointment, I got my ENT Dr. Mathison to do all the referral work and medical history, and Scott filed with my insurance [and I paid the remaining balance], so I paid for it. It was not free, and it’s not something she can technically take credit for.”

10/20/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“I had a nice talk with Dr. Joe. He wants you to know that down the road a lot more stuff can be done. It’s too soon to do major stuff until the tissue heals because of radiation, etc. I asked if they’d be able to cover the roof of your mouth and the large opening in your left nostril and all docs are pretty sure they’ll be able to do it eventually. So even if [the surgeons can’t operate until] next year they will do everything for free. In the meantime, they’ll still do many things to help with your pain and appearance. Dr. Joe said eventually he’ll give you implants so no more teeth that are attached to anything. No one needs to see you so I’m working on getting you a flight home much earlier. Xoxo”

11/01/2017: Text received from Christine Mango:

“I’ll work on your return to Vegas today. xo”

11/04/2017: Marisha has a doctor’s appointment due to the infection that developed in Las Vegas.

9/24/2018: Marisha received a voicemail message from one of her contacts at “The Doctors” saying they’d heard disturbing information and had reached a “workable solution” they wanted to share with her. They refused to email and insisted that she speak on the phone, even if she just listens and doesn’t speak. Marisha does not feel comfortable speaking on the phone.

10/28/2018: Marisha emails Mackenzie Kolling and Stephanie Woodward to request that they return the medical records to her. (It took Marisha hours to request and compile all of her records, and she told the producers she wanted them returned when they were finished with them.) She also requests “any and all copies of the paperwork signed after the show taped.”

10/31/2018: Email received from Mackenzie Kolling:

Are you available for a quick phone call to go over this and everything?  Please let me know a time that works for you.

11/2018: Marisha called Dr. Willardsen’s office, True Dentistry in Las Vegas, and asked to be read the full contents of her chart. The employee stated that Marisha had been seen for an “exam for a new arbitrator” (obturator), which was then sent to a dental lab in Michigan. 

Marisha called the dental lab in Michigan and was told that they had received Marisha’s impressions in August of 2018 – a full ten months after the show aired. The owner of the dental lab said that Dr. Willardsen had been sent a “custom tray” back in September 2018, two months earlier, which was the “very first step” in obturator fabrication. 

[the rest of this part will be completed tonight – 1/29, but if you want to skip ahead, check out the long video (under the “Timeline” heading in the menu and the last quarter covers this]

When Marisha was in LA for the show, one of the days wrapped up early, around six or seven o’clock. Marisha ordered an Uber to the beach. It was an extravagance she couldn’t afford, but the Carolina beaches are an eight-hour drive from her home in Knoxville, and, besides, this was her first time on the West Coast. She walked along the Santa Monica Pier and watched the waves lap up on the sandy shore.

”I really wanted to see the ocean,” she said later. “It was my most enjoyable experience out there.”

Photo: Marisha Dotson