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Chimp Attack Victim Undergoes Full Face Transplant

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(Courtesy Brigham and Women's Hospital)

(Courtesy Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

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BOSTON (AP) _ Doctors at a Boston hospital have performed a full face transplant on the Connecticut woman who was mauled and blinded two years ago by her friend’s pet chimpanzee.

Officials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital performed the transplant on Charla Nash late last month, the hospital announced Friday.

The 30-member surgical team under the leadership of Dr. Bohdan Pomahac also performed a double hand transplant on Nash, but the hands failed to thrive and were removed.

John Orr, a spokesman for the Nash family, said Nash developed numerous health problems after the surgery and only recently regained consciousness.

“She developed pneumonia, she had kidney failure, she had the circulation issue with the hands,” Orr said. “She’s been under, so to speak, since this whole thing began, and now she’s just starting to wake up.”

Orr said he has not seen Nash, but is told by her brother, Stephen, that Nash looks “fantastic, in terms of the face.”

Orr said the donor’s identity has been kept secret, but was a “fairly consistent match” for Nash.

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 color and texture.

“She’s not aware of the hands, that she lost them,” he said. “She’s still groggy. She’s acknowledging with a nod that someone is there, but she still has pneumonia issues. The kidneys are back working, but she isn’t aware of too much yet.”

The 200-pound pet chimpanzee, named Travis, went berserk in February 2009 after its owner asked Nash to help lure it back into her house. It ripped off Nash’s hands, nose, lips and eyelids, blinding her before being shot and killed by police.

The owner, Sandra Herold, has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her and attacked Nash because she had changed her hairstyle, was driving a different car and was holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get Travis’ attention.

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

Since the attack, Nash wore a straw hat with a veil to cover some of her injuries.

About a dozen face transplants have been done worldwide, in the U.S., France, Spain and China.

There have been two others performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dallas Wiens became the nation’s first face transplant patient there in March.

The 25-year-old Fort Worth, Texas man received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from an unidentified dead person in an operation paid for by the U.S. military, which wants to use what is learned to help soldiers with severe facial wounds.

Wiens’ features were all but burned away and he was left blind after hitting a power line while painting a church in November 2008.

Mitch Hunter, a 30-year-old Indiana man, received the surgery in April.

Hunter’s face was severely disfigured and burned during a car accident that toppled high-voltage electrical wires. He also lost his left leg below the knee and two fingers.

The simultaneous face and hands surgery has been done only once before, in France in 2009, and that patient later died.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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