After Shirley Anderson lost his jaw to cancer, Dr. Travis Bellicchi took on the challenge of creating a prosthesis — with groundbreaking results.
On Shirley Anderson’s left shoulder is a faded heart tattoo that says “Della,” his wife of fifty years. They met as high school sweethearts in Evansville, Indiana and married right before Shirley served in the navy in the Vietnam war. When he returned, he worked as a mechanic, and she was an administrative assistant. They soon had two children and later, three grandchildren. They still live in Evansville and have enjoyed a remarkably happy marriage through the years. To this day, Shirley carries around a picture of Della in his wallet.
Their strong marriage was shaken in 1998, when Shirley discovered a cancerous lump on his tongue. From that point on, Della says, “It’s kind of been one bad thing after another.” For years, Shirley endured surgeries and radiation therapies. Doctors put a radium implant in his jaw, which destroyed his facial tissue. Surgeons removed his chest muscles to recreate his lower face, but it didn’t work — in the end, he was left without a jaw and Adam’s apple. Because he couldn’t eat solid food, he lost 80 pounds in three months. He now wears a surgical mask in public to hide his lower face. He usually speaks by writing on a handheld whiteboard or by communicating through Della.
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