Marybeth Walz Pritzlaff

A Powerful Message of Hope and Faith

Family is everything to Marybeth Pritzlaff!   “I spent my whole life dreaming of being a wife and a mother, it was a long road but I am finally here and happier than ever.”  She was born and raised in Middletown NJ, along with 3 siblings.  She attended all of the Middletown Public Schools, meeting the most incredible people who continue to be a huge part of her world.  After graduating from high school, she went to Kean College and then began a successful sales career at Verizon (former MCI).  For many years that was her main focus.  At the age of 29, she learned that she had stage 3 cervical cancer that would preclude her ability to ever carry a child.  She was devastated as she always wanted to be a mother, but, thankfully, she had a compassionate oncologist, Dr. Thaddeus Denehy, who introduced her to the world of infertility, a world that would later become a huge part of her story.

After cancer treatment, she went back to work and re-dedicated herself to her  sales career at Verizon.  She built a home in Middletown, but unfortunately didn’t get to spend too much time there, since she was constantly traveling with her career. Work was incredibly demanding which also created a challenge in her personal life.  After years of spending the majority of her time working, she found herself 37 and single.  At that point, with fertility technology having advanced, she made the decision to freeze egg’s and embryo’s and move forward with her lifelong desire of becoming a mother.  Shortly after she made that decision, she reconnected with Ode Pritzlaff, a former high school sweetheart. They had both gone their separate ways and while life had taken some difficult turns for her, Ode too had been through his own. After suffering a series of debilitating headaches,  Ode was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent 4 brain surgeries. He had also gone through a separation with his wife and was in the process of getting divorced.  Ode and Marybeth started out as friends but the connection was undeniable and they quickly fell in love.

Ode already had two beautiful daughters but was excited about the possibility of having another child.  Marybeth made the decision to go forward with a pregnancy, and her sister-in-law Colleen made the extraordinary offer to be the gestational surrogate.  On June 7, 2013 they were told the wonderful news that twin boys would be due on Valentine’s Day, 2014.  Their happiness was dampened when they found out that her employer provided NO benefits for a pregnancy involving gestational surrogacy.   Marybeth was devastated and says, “Although Verizon claimed to be a family friendly company they would not acknowledge that I was about to become a mother even though I was having 2 biological sons. I spent 17 years being loyal to a company and the only time I required anything from them, the same thing that they give everyone else- I was denied. Happiness turned to shock which turned to panic when appeals for coverage were iqnored. Not only was I responsible for the majority of the costs incurred by the pregnancy which totaled over $200,000 out of pocket. I was also informed that I would receive absolutely NO benefits from Verizon. No time off, nothing! None of the incredible benefits that were available to adoptive parents, military parents or to mothers who were blessed to carry their own children. I felt like I was being punished for having cancer and not being able to carry my own babies. Like that wasn’t bad enough.” 

That’s when she made the decision to sell her home to have money available, but since the house was built at the height of the NJ real estate market and sold during a downturn, she suffered a huge financial loss.  While all of this was happening Ode’s medical condition worsened and they found out his brain tumor had become terminal, inoperable and fast-growing.  The prognosis was two to four years. He immediately started chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Marybeth was numb from all that was happening, but kept it together for the sake of her future family. On November 19th, Colleen went into pre-term labor and delivered Jude (2lbs 4oz) and Thaddeus (2lbs. 1oz). Although small, there were no apparent issues with either baby. Thad was the weaker of the two boys and on a ventilator. When the decision was made to remove and allow him to breathe on his own, complications quickly arose. Although doctors made the effort to put him back on, the damage had been done.  She held Thad as he bled out and eventually took his last breath in her arms.  “My little boy that I always dreamed of, was gone. As you can imagine, I was beyond devastated but I knew I had to be strong for the sake of Jude and Ode.  After spending 2 months in the NICU never leaving Jude’s side, I was told he was progressing well, and that he would go home at the end of December. At that point, I knew I had to deal with Thad’s funeral so left North Carolina for 1 day to travel to Middletown to make arrangements.

A few days before they were to have buried Thad, they were given the news that Jude had a rare and serious tumor in his abdomen. They were airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia the same day that we were supposed to lay Thad to rest and they were told Jude had a rare form of congenital cancer. His chemo began immediately. For months, Jude fought for his life and dealt with more than most people have to deal with in a lifetime. Although Jude never left a hospital, he had a huge following of people praying, offering love and support which included so many special people from their hometown of Middletown. They stayed optimistic that Jude was going to make it but unfortunately, the situation took a terrible turn, and on May 22, 2014 they lost their second child to cancer.

“Once again, they let me hold our baby as he took his last breath in my arms. Due to Ode’s cancer treatment, we had to delay the boys funeral. Ironically, we wound up burying Jude and Thad together on June 7th, 2014… exactly 1 year from the day that we found out that we were having a child. After this horrific loss, I had reached a very low point and was struggling to make sense of it all. I had lost two children, I was forced to sell my home, I didn’t have a home as our rental had expired during our hospital stay, I spent a good portion of my life savings the cost of having my children via surrogacy, my sons’ funeral, and hospital bills. On top of that, there was the loss from my home and also a loss that took place a few years prior when Verizon (former MCI) filed bankruptcy.

During the time that Jude was fighting for his life, I was demoted by Verizon and then shortly after burying my sons, I received a letter telling me NOT to come back to work. I was fired. It seemed like almost every aspect of my life was turned upside down and on top of that, I was madly in love with a man who had terminal brain cancer and was given 2-4 years to live almost a year prior.

My life felt meaningless and I felt lifeless- Once I came out of the fog of all that had happened, almost a year later. I realized that I could not lose Ode too. That’s when I got out of bed and we started looking for effective treatment options. We worked with doctors around the county getting Ode’s medical records to the right people. Even though there were no changes in treatment since we buried the boys, luck finally visited us and Ode’s tumor stopped growing and by the grace of God, has not grown since. At that point, we decided to try for another child. We were turned away for adoption due to Odes’ health condition and I think because we were both out of work, so once again we opted for a surrogate pregnancy. Thankfully, we found a beautiful gestational surrogate and we were on our way to together becoming parents again. We wanted to be married before our child was born so on May 28th, 2016 I finally became Mrs. Pritzlaff.  Less than 10 days later, on June 7th, 2016 our daughter Carrington Grace was born (3 years from the day that I found out about becoming a mother, and 2 years from the day that we buried our sons) Unfortunately, we went through a lot after Carrington was born as NJ was not a Surrogacy friendly state- yet together we got through that battle and I am happy to report that things are now different in NJ for families trying to conceive via gestational surrogacy. Over the years, our lives have taken some pretty dark turns, we have lived through the depths of sadness and heartache which I never thought that I could recover from. However, I was wrong. Although I miss our sons more than words can describe, I am grateful that I had them and I would re-live every second over again just to experience their love. Since our loss, not only have learned to smile again but we have experienced miracles, blessings and tremendous happiness through the birth of our daughter and the love of our family. As long as we have each other, we have everything we need.”

Making a Difference with Philanthropy

She never went back to work after she was let go from Verizon.  Marybeth has been very busy working in philanthropy ever since.  She is currently the Executive Director and Co-Founder of HFCF (formerly Hope For Children Foundation, NJ –  HFCF is a registered 501(c)(3) committed to enhancing the lives of the children in Monmouth County.  Along with two close childhood friends, Eric Hinds and Steve Coltrain (both from Middletown), they founded HFCF in 2004.  Thanks to their supporters, their small group has made a HUGE impact in the lives of so many children! They are blessed with an amazing board and a generous group of friends who believe in what they do. Over the years the organization has raised over 3 million dollars.  100% of the donations goes toward their cause – whether it’s child suffering from a medical condition, an under-privileged child, or an organization that makes a difference in the life of a child, they have seen and done it all.  “If there is someone that needs our help, we are always there for support and if we can’t do it alone, we partner with other non-profits to ensure that everyone in our community gets the support they need. Over the years we have come across almost every situation imaginable and we have helped. I learned very early on, that there was a great need to collaborate within the philanthropic world and over the years I have built an incredible network of nonprofit organizations, companies and friends through-out the state. We have become a resource for the schools, the children’s hospitals and other non-profits.”  

In addition to HFCF, Marybeth is currently on the Executive Board of CFC Loud and ClearFamily Promise of Monmouth County and involved with countless other nonprofits in our community.

“It’s ironic that this is the path that I choose prior to experiencing life as i know it, however i truly believe that this is exactly what I am supposed to do and where i am supposed to be.”

Q. What inspired you or led you to your current career?
A. “Shortly after my own battle with cancer in 2001, I knew I wanted to do something to give back. It was during that time, that my close friends Eric Hinds and Steve Coltrain spoke about getting together with family, friends and colleagues to make a difference in our community. The next thing I knew, Eric, Steve and I were in the midst of planning an event. Along with a small group of friends we carried out our vision which has now turned into a passion as well as an incredible nonprofit that has made a significant impact in the lives of thousands of families in Monmouth County.”

Q. What is your favorite local restaurant?
A. “My favorite restaurants are not only great because of their food, but also because of their owners. There are some incredible restaurants in Middletown Township and the surrounding area that ALWAYS give back to the community. Taliercios, The Salt Creek Grill, Nana’s Kitchen, Gabriella’s, Wahoo’s Taco’s, Piero’s, Fratelli’s, and Slaters Deli are a few that come to mind. Their owners are truly good souls that will always go out of their way to help those in need.”

Q. How long have you lived or worked in Middletown?
A. “I was born, raised and spent the majority of my adult life in Middletown.”

Q. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
A. “I’ve been blessed to travel quite a bit over the years and my favorite spot is definitely the Amalfi Cost, however at this point in my life- it’s all about my family. We are currently saving to go to Florida, so Carrington can experience the magic of Walt Disney World. I can’t wait.”

Q. What advice would you give to people?
A. “Throughout all that my family and I have been through, we fought to persevere just one more day, one day at a time, because the alternative was to give up and I just could not do that. My sincere hope is that by sharing my story, I will give hope to others that there can always be a bright light that comes from the very darkest of days.”

Q. What is your go to band when you cant decide what to listen to?
A. “One of my favorite artists is Sean McDonald, he’s a Christian artist. His music inspires me as does Christian music in general. I am a big fan of Star 99.1.”

Q. What current or former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Middletown?
A. “I love everything about Middletown however it’s not a business that makes me the most nostalgic, it’s my childhood home on Seneca Drive. Over the years we used to plant our Christmas trees along the property line. They are now big enough for Rockefeller Center. As children, we played in woods, rode horses, and had great neighbors who have become like family. Middletown was a magical place to grow up. Whenever I need a smile, I drive by my old house where so many wonderful memories were made. To me, if there’s ever a place to call home, that’s it! My home sweet home!”

Q. What is your favorite thing or something unique about our community?
A. “I am still very close with a majority of people that I met in grammar school, junior high school and high school. I have found that when you speak to people who are not from Middletown, it’s rare that people still stay close with their childhood friends. Yet for some reason in Middletown, regardless of people’s age’s it’s a norm. I personally think that is one of the greatest things about our town. There are so many good people and once they come, they never want to leave.”

Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
A. “My family is and will always be my 1st priority yet I am excited about what else is to come. I’m currently in the process of working with partners on two initiatives. One, will be a continuation of our efforts with collaboration in philanthropy. It’s always been my dream to start an organization that could provide a nationwide resources for those in need, and also provide a reliable tool for charitable giving. We will start local and continue on. In hopes that dream becomes a reality in the near future. I am also working with my friend Claudia Noonan to create change for parental equality. Both Claudia and I experienced hurdles due to our infertility issues and we want to ensure that no other parent has to go through what we experienced. We are currently working hard to change antiquated laws, raise awareness and fight for parental equality throughout the US.”

Q. Who inspires you to be better?
A. “God and my children”

Q. Finally, what 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?

A. “Over the years I have learned home is not where you are but who your with. I’m blessed to have a strong FAITH, an incredible FAMILY and the most beautiful FRIENDS. That is my heart and my home!”

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