Charla Nash awaits face transplant

2011-04-01 11:47
New Haven - A Connecticut woman mauled and heavily disfigured by a chimpanzee two years ago can't see, touch or smell and struggles to eat through a straw. She's eagerly awaiting a donor who would enable her to undergo face and hand transplant surgery.

Charla Nash, who's at a rehabilitation centre near Boston, was deemed eligible for the surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston after passing numerous pre-operative tests and evaluations.

The hospital, which performed the nation's first full face transplant earlier this month on a Texas construction worker injured in a power line accident, is working with the New England Organ Bank to find donors who match Nash's tissue requirements.

"She keeps her spirits up," one of her attorneys, Charles Willinger, said Wednesday. "She's just remarkable. Every day is a challenge for her."

The 90kg pet chimpanzee named Travis went berserk in February 2009 after its owner asked Nash to help lure it back into her house in Stamford, one of the state's biggest cities. It ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids.

Hand and face transplant

The Department of Defence would pay for the surgery through a contract it gave the hospital in 2009 to cover the cost of face transplants for veterans and some civilians, hospital officials said. Depending on donors, the hospital could wind up performing the first simultaneous hand and face transplant in the country.

The simultaneous surgery has been done only once before, in France in 2009, and that patient later died. Plastic surgeon Dr Bohdan Pomahac, who will lead the team and performed the earlier face transplant, said he has a larger team and designed the operation differently.

"We feel that it's a perfectly feasible operation," Pomahac said on Thursday. "I feel comfortable and confident that we can certainly perform it."

The donor can be as much as 20 years younger or up to 10 years older than the recipient and must have the same blood type and similar skin colour and texture. Time is of the essence when recovering facial tissue from a donor, so the donor must be located within a four-hour travel radius of Brigham and Women's Hospital, hospital officials said.

The surgery will "profoundly" change Nash's life, restoring her sense of smell and touch, making it easier for her to eat and allowing her more independence, Pomahac said, adding that Nash is excited about it.

"She's doing very well, psychologically amazingly well considering the gravity of her injuries," Pomahac said.

Nash, whose face was damaged beyond recognition, wears a straw hat with a veil that hangs over the front and covers some of her injuries.


She spends her time talking on the phone with her daughter, who is in college, and taking walks with her brother, family spokesperson John Orr said. She gets excited when occasionally she can taste food, such as a recent soda, he said.

The chimp's owner, Sandra Herold, who had a tow truck business, died last year of an aneurysm. Nash's family is suing her estate for $50m and wants to sue the state for $150m, saying state officials failed to prevent the attack.

The chimp was shot and killed by police, and tests showed it had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in its system. The chimp also had escaped from its owner's car in 2003 and led police on a chase for hours in downtown Stamford, but no one was injured.

YouTube video of Nash when she appeared on Oprah. WARNING: Graphic Content:

Read more on:    animals  |  health

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