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On May 19, 1992, Mary Jo Buttafuoco's life changed forever. A 17-year-old Amy Fisher, aka "Long Island Lolita" showed up on Mary Jo's doorstep, and said she was having an affair with her husband, Joey Buttafuoco. The girl then shot Mary Jo in the head. Fisher pleaded guilty to assault in the second degree and served seven years in prison. Joey Buttafuoco served six months in prison after being convicted of statutory rape for having sex with Fisher. Here, Mary Jo talks with In Session about her life after the shooting.
Q: You were at the center of a media circus. Do you think our nation’s fascination with crime is healthy?
A: Oh my goodness. Now you’re getting heavy. It’s human nature. I don’t know that it’s healthy or unhealthy. It’s what we do. As somebody who has been a victim of a violent crime, I still find myself watching if there is a car wreck or if there is a burning building. It’s just something that is in our psyches as human beings that we are curious about it, so we follow it.
Q: Do you think there has been an increase in high-profile criminal cases since the '90s?
A: Yes, I do, and that is because of social media. You know, when I was shot, there was the news and there was the newspaper and that was it. Now with YouTube and 10,000 more radio shows and television shows with news ... so, absolutely it's way more prevalent than it was 20 years ago.
Q: When did you leave your ex-husband Joey and what was the final straw?
A: Joey and I officially split up right after New Year's of 2000. There was no final straw. It was more a slow, sad process. For me, it was after realizing that nothing was going to change, I had been in rehab a few months earlier because I had become addicted to the pain medication. When I came out of that fog, I realized I had to make some changes in my life, so it was really just a slow, sad end to 25 years of us together.
Q: You’ve gone through some extensive surgery. Can you describe some of the procedures you’ve had?
A: Well, in the beginning, the bullet tore through right in front of my ear on the right side and destroyed my hearing in that ear and my esophagus was paralyzed and my eyesight was damaged. Some of the nerves on the right side of my face are paralyzed. So, the initial surgeries were to clean out the bullet hole, which was excruciating, it was just horrible. Because you have to heal it from the inside out because it’s a hole in your head. And the packing procedures and the pain, just really bad. I had corrective surgeries. I had terrible ear infections. Then I had surgeries to restore some of the motion in my face. I’ve had some surgeries to try and improve my swallowing technique because my esophagus was paralyzed. So it’s been years of this ongoing stuff.
Q: Is there a chance you’ll have more surgery?
A: I don’t know. Unless a complication comes forward, which there could be. But, I don’t anticipate it. It’s pretty much after 20 years just living with the effects of the shooting.
Q: Beyond the physical pain, how did you recover from the emotional pain? Did you have counseling?
A: I did. I had counseling. A lot of time. Years and years of trying to understand what happened and why it happened and where I was going with it, and outside help and friends and just time. Things go by, you put things into perspective. When you’re in the middle of the storm, you’re just busy trying to batten down the hatches. But when you’re out of it and you have the chance to look back, it’s when you start to get introspective and say I’ve got to make changes in my life.
Q: What are you up to now? I understand you’re very passionate about your charity work.
A: Yes, thank you for asking. You know, a few years ago I was on the Oprah Winfrey show and through that show, a doctor’s wife, Dr. Azizzadeh's wife, watched the program and saw that I had this facial paralysis and that is what Dr. Azizzadeh specializes in. He is a plastic surgeon, he does facelifts and eye lifts, but he also specializes in facial paralysis.
So I met with him and he did surgeries on me which were documented and were on a second Oprah program. Which brings me to where we are today. I will be on the Oprah show Tuesday night talking about what I have been doing since I have been on that show. The big thing is that Dr. Azizzadeh and I have kind of collaborated together and we have formed this Facial Paralysis & Bell’s Palsy Foundation.
He has come up with, over the years, new techniques and procedures to help people who are suffering from facial paralysis, whether it is by a tumor or an accident or from birth or from cancer or from stroke. You know, there are many reasons that tumors can develop in the brain and develop paralysis in the face. A few years ago, there was no hope. You had to live with it. But the doctor has come up with new procedures to help people who thought there was no hope.
Q: You are on the board, and you do speaking engagements and help people who go through similar situations. Correct?
A: That’s true. You know when something happens like this, you have to figure out what are you going to do with this? What can I do with this? And I’ve learned that by speaking out on what I’ve been through, this marriage, and being married to a sociopath and being shot and all of this stuff, by talking to people, it helps me because I’m helping somebody else.
I’ve met so many people over the years that have come up to me afterward and said, ‘You know, if you could survive what you survived, I can get through what I’m going through.’ And everybody has something. So, for me, just sharing this and being out there sharing my story, it helps other people and it was all worth it.
As the foundation goes, I’m kind of like the voice. The doctor has the know-how, and I have the name. I want people to know all over the country that if they’re suffering from something like this, there is hope and there is a place to go. If that is my mission, I accept it gladly. Like anybody who is infamous or famous who has something -- like, I’ll say Michael Fox with Parkinson’s disease -- years ago, it wasn’t talked about much and then this man got it, and so he has taken a tragedy and turned it into something positive by bringing awareness to it. That is what I’m doing in this case with facial paralysis.
Q: What was the most important lesson you have learned from this situation?
A: I think the most important lesson is that I learned how to forgive myself. I look back, and I’m not that person that I was 20 years ago and I was angry, I was sick, I believed my husband when he was lying to me, even though people would look at me and say, ‘You’re a dope, Mary Jo. What’s the matter with you?’ I realize now that he did fool me and he did lie to me. But I was under the umbrella of a man who was a sociopath and whatever he told me, he said it in such a way that made me believe him.
As time went on and I realized, I started to get mad at myself for being a fool. After I beat myself up, I started to say, ‘Wait a minute, it is what it is.’ These people get away with what they get away with because they’re very good at what they do. It’s not so much that I was a fool, it was more that he was just so good at what he does. So I learned to just move on and grow and learn and forgive myself.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I’d love for people to check out my website, MaryJoButtafuoco.com, where you can learn more about the foundation and some of my keynotes. My book is still out there, “Getting it Through My Thick Skull,” which is the story of the shooting and what I’ve been through since then.
Mary Jo will appear on Oprah's "Where Are They Now?" on the OWN Network Tuesday night.