Mary Lou Retton Responds to Critics After Daughters Crowdsourced to Pay Her Medical Bills (Exclusive)

Mary Lou Retton was hospitalized in October after contracting a rare form of pneumonia.

Mary Lou Retton is setting the record straight about the money raised for her massive medical bills. 

In an emotional interview with ET’s Deidre Behar at her Texas home, the Olympic gymnast opened up about her battle with a rare form of pneumonia last year, her ongoing health struggles, and the financial burden the illness has caused. 

Retton, known for her historic gymnastics achievements, shared the deeply personal story of her medical emergency and the subsequent criticism surrounding a SpotFund campaign set up to support her medical expenses.

Reflecting on her health journey, Retton says, "It's been hard, I have to say. You know, give me a hip to rehab, give me a knee or a shoulder. The lungs are a different beast. It's a very long recovery, I'm still on oxygen, and I had a bit of a relapse a while ago, but I'm back and regulated. It's just more discouragement than anything because, you know, patience isn't one of my strong skillsets."

Mary Lou Retton - Getty

Despite the scarring on her lungs and the prolonged recovery, Retton remains optimistic. "I'm alive, and there was a time when I was in the hospital, I don't remember a lot of it, but they called in my youngest daughter from her University of Arkansas and said 'We need you to come.' I mean it was that close and they prayed over me and they were about to put me on a ventilator and I pulled through," she recounts.

Retton attributes her survival to divine intervention and the overwhelming support she received. "I believe it's the big man upstairs honestly. He's not ready for me up there. I'm not ready. I have a lot to look forward to and I know that and the love and support that I got was just overwhelming, you know. I just thought I was some washed-up old athlete because what we did with my team and I 40 years ago," she says. "I feel it. I think that prayers and the love and support helped pull me through I really do."

Mary Lou Retton - Getty

Discussing her current health, Retton shares, "Well, obviously still on oxygen. I'm tired of this thing up my nose. I mean, this all happened beginning of October, and we're halfway almost through May, so I'm better, but it’s not where I wanna be." She adds, "I still have the part-time breathing and getting breaths, you know, and I'm a speaker and haven't been able to work cause I don't know if I can get up on stage and do an hour-long talk like I've normally done for 40 years. That’s frustrating."

The support of her four daughters has been crucial during her recovery. "They just inspire me. You know, people always come up and say to me, 'Oh you inspired me' and this and that, but it’s my daughters who inspire me. They were strong. I can't imagine them seeing me on my death bed, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was. They've shown me pictures of myself, and I didn't even look like me. They inspire me, and they do every day. They're extraordinary young women. They're my biggest accomplishments. Take my five medals. I'll take my daughters over that any time," Retton says with pride.

Retton’s financial situation took a hit following her divorce and the onset of COVID-19, which disrupted her speaking engagements. "Then COVID hit, literally COVID hit -- our job is to be near people and talk to them and so there was no work whatsoever, so I mean, it’s not like it used to be. Let’s say that like the height of my fame was years ago and I just, you know, doing enough to make it, doing enough to pay my bills," she explains.

Mary Lou Retton - David Madison/Getty Images

A fund set up by her daughters to help cover her mounting medical bills faced mixed reactions. Retton addresses this, stating, "Well, as I said earlier, I don't go down those rabbit holes. I do tune out the noise, I mean I was in the ICU for a month, like, the bills were and are still coming in." She adds that she was unaware of the campaign until weeks later and was moved to tears upon discovering it. Recalls Retton, "I was sobbing, of course -- sobbing."

Regarding the backlash her daughters faced for setting up the fund, Retton says, "They didn't deserve that. They were just trying to take care of me. I don't care about the naysayers. There are trolls everywhere. It's what makes us America. Everybody’s got an opinion, but it is what it is." She expressed her gratitude for the nearly 10,000 donors who contributed almost $500,000, saying, "Grateful from one dollar to $25,000."

Retton emphasized that all the funds are strictly allocated toward her medical bills, and any remaining money will be donated to the American Lung Association. "You can't imagine from ambulance bills to everything," she says. "I couldn't have done it without my daughters. I just couldn't have. I mean, I don't know where I'd be."

Addressing her critics, Retton reiterates, "You're welcome to your opinion, but you weren't in that situation. My daughters stepped up to the plate, and they saved my life and all the love and support saved my life, and these finances will only go to medical bills and I said what’s left will go to the American Lung Association because I am now a member of the lung disease community."