13 Investigates


Cancer survivor takes on reality show doctors

Woman claims lifeline was misleading
Posted at 9:03 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 08:59:16-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A local dentist could be going from a reality show to a real-life courtroom after a cancer survivor says she was misled.

13 Investigates hears from the woman who claims the show "The Doctors" was more deceptive than helpful.

"At first it didn't look like anything."

Marisha Dotson was a busy senior at the University of Tennessee in 2014 when she noticed a small red bump on her nose. What she didn't know at the time was that bump would end up changing her life.

"And within five weeks it had grown to the size of a quarter on the outside of my nose."

A biopsy confirmed cancer. Initially, Marisha says she was told it could be surgically removed in just a few hours.

"Except that was the longest day of my life," says Marisha. "Because every layer that they took, they kept seeing cancer cells, cancer cells, cancer cells, cancer cells. So I had what is called perineural invasion."

Cancer was invading the space around the nerves in Marisha's face. She was just a college student.

"I didn't have health care," Marisha says.

She set up a GoFundMe page to help pay her medical bills. Cancer returned in the fall of 2015.

According to a lawsuit filed in Clark County District Court, another surgery was required in September of 2016, "...to remove Marisha's newly-healed reconstructed nose, upper jaw bone, left sinus bone, septum, eight teeth, the roof of Marisha's mouth and hard palate, nasal floor bone and tissue between Marisha's gums and mouth."

The reason for the lawsuit goes back to 2017 when Marisha says something of a lifeline was tossed her way.

"We're very interested in your story. We want to help you," recalls Marisha.

According to Marisha, the people interested in her story had seen her ordeal on social media.

And they introduced her to a public relations representative working with Las Vegas dental surgeon, Dr. Joe Willardsen.

Marisha claims she was promised a special surprise if she appeared on a televised episode of "The Doctors."

She sent extensive medical records and dozens of photographs of her mouth and nose. She was examined by "The Doctors" show physicians before the segment was recorded in Los Angeles. It aired on September 19, 2017.

The following is an excerpt from the episode Marisha was a guest on:

Host: "We also reached out to a cosmetic dentist, Dr. Joe Willardsen, who is now joining us in the audience. And he has something that he wants to say to you as well."

Dr Willardsen: "You're... You're an inspiration to all of us. And I'm just very honored to work with you to help give you your smile back free of charge as well with the oral surgeons, the plastic surgeons and myself. We're going to make you as beautiful as you look and feel already inside and out."

Soon after that, Marisha flew to Las Vegas from Knoxville, Tennessee, for an initial appointment with Dr. Willardsen in October.

She says he told her before reconstructive surgery, she'd need a series of new obturators -- a prosthetic device with teeth attached which serves as the roof of her mouth.

But instead of the obturators, Marisha says she got a series of delays and excuses.

"I feel like they kept stringing me along," she says.

In court records, Marisha says text messages with Christine Mango, the public relations representative, show what transpired following that first appointment.

Marisha texts Mango in December 2017: "I haven't heard from anyone, and just hoping not to be forgotten about."

Mango responds: "I think everyone is shooting for January for Vegas!"

By the end of January 2018, Marisha checks in again and Mango responds that's she's "Hounding" the team and "Sorry it's taking so long."

A month later Marisha texts to check in again and Mango responds; "Just got off the phone with Dr. Joe and we decided to move forward regardless of what the show is doing. It's been too long."

Marisha asks what the plan is and Mango replies "Your prosthetic is ready" and they're working on travel arrangements, proposing an early April trip to Las Vegas after Marisha notes that her gums can't heal.

But April came and went. No trip to Vegas. No prosthetic device.

"After it didn't happen for a while, just, I felt really abandoned," says Marisha.

In mid May, Mango texts Marisha: "....So Vegas mid June? Any conflicts? XO"

Marisha says she can make the trip, but once again, the appointment didn't happen.

On July 31, Marisha texts: "You had said you spoke with Dr. Joe over a month ago now. The dental prosthesis has reached critical...Keep me in the loop please."

Mango's reply: "Hi sweetie. Will get on it today."

"And, you know, they made a bunch of promises...like that lifeline just kind of got jerked out from under me," says Marisha.

And progress continues to be out of reach. In August, she's told Dr. Willardsen is moving to a new location causing more delays.

On Sept. 20, 2018, Marisha posts her disappointment on Facebook and soon after, according to court records, Mango leaves her a voicemail: "We have all seen your very nasty post on Facebook, and the team of 15 people that are helping you are very disappointed."

Still suffering from daily pain and after holding off treatment elsewhere for over a year, Marisha sought legal help.

"They strung her out," says attorney Tim O'Reilly. "They gave her these false hopes and it just didn't stop in terms of a day. It didn't stop in terms of a week. It didn't stop in terms of months. It went on for years."

O'Reilly is Marisha's attorney in the case she filed against Dr. Willardsen and Christine Mango who they're suing for negligence, breach of contract and emotional distress.

"This is a cancer survivor who's missing a significant part of her facial features, a cancer survivor who potentially could have went to alternative resources," says O'Reilly. "But relied upon the representations that was made here. The representations that they were being viewed as heroes on these videos."

13 Investigates learned there's a settlement with "The Doctors" show itself but details are not available.

As for Dr. Willardsen and Christine Mango, Marisha says she just wants them to do the right thing.

"I don't think it's right that people make a gain off of other people's suffering or other people's stories, you know," Marisha says.

Through his attorney, Dr. Willardsen declined our request for an on-camera interview. Christine Mango also declined on the advice of her lawyer, citing pending litigation.

We tried contacting producers of The Doctors show and CBS but they never returned emails or phone calls.

Willardsen's attorney tried to have the case dismissed but the judge denied that motion.

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