Health & Wellness

'Keep thinking of the future': Chimp attack victim fights for her day in court

It’s been five years since Charla Nash was viciously attacked by a 200-pound chimpanzee; that day, she lost her sight, her hands, her nose and most of her face. Now, Nash is fighting for her day in court, with a hearing scheduled for Friday. 

“What happened to me, how it was handled, it could happen to any hundreds of others out there,” Nash said in a phone interview with NBC News. She later said, "I’m hoping that the legislation will allow me to have my day in court. That I will be able to have a judge listen to the evidence that is brought before him about the vicious attack on me." 

In 2012, Nash received $4 million from the estate of the chimp's owner, but she is now asking the state for $150 million to cover additional medical costs. The office of Connecticut's attorney general released this statement to TODAY: "While we have the utmost sympathy for Charla Nash, we do not believe that the state is liable for Ms. Nash's injuries; to decide otherwise would set a very dangerous precedent, exposing the state and its tax payers to unlimited liability and costly litigations." 

Last month, Feb. 16, marked the fifth anniversary of the horrific attack. For Nash, it really felt just like “another day.” She tries to focus on her recovery, on the present day, and the days ahead.

“You can’t live on the past; it’s only going to hurt you,” she said. “You can remember it, but the best thing is to keep thinking of the future.”

Brandon Goodwin / Today
Charla Nash poses for a portrait at a family home on March 13.

In 2011, Nash was one of the first face transplant recipients in the U.S., and she revealed her new face on TODAY later that year, telling Meredith Vieira it was the first time in her life anyone had called her “beautiful.” At that time Nash needed subtitles to be understood, but now her speech is clear.

The next big milestone for Nash will be getting a new pair of hands, via transplant. On her right hand, she lost everything but her thumb; on her left side, she has only as far as her elbow. She had a successful hand transplant at the time of the face transplant surgery. But when she developed pneumonia, her doctors had to remove the transplanted hands because of the infection and poor circulation. 

“So it’s like I lost my hands twice,” Nash said.

With hands, “I know that will improve my life greatly, I just know it. … I could feed myself. And I could wash my whole body. There’s more I’d be doing on my own.” 

She's on a waiting list now. 

Last year, Nash attempted to sue the state of Connecticut, arguing that the state should have seized Travis the chimpanzee, because his owner, Sandra Herold, didn’t have a permit allowing her to own the animal. But the state’s claims commissioner denied Nash’s case; Nash’s lawyers hope to overturn that denial in next week’s hearing with the state legislature. If it is overturned, Nash will be allowed to proceed with her lawsuit, which would provide Nash and her family with a sense of justice, said her brother, Steve Nash.

“It’s been a very long road. It’s been five years since she was attacked,” said one of Nash’s attorneys, Matthew Newman. “And all we’re looking for is an opportunity to have all the evidence heard, and for a judge to make a decision based on all the evidence and the law.”

Pursuing the lawsuit sometimes helps provide a sense of meaning to all that she's been through, but mostly, she’s found peace through connecting with other people: her family, those who’ve cared for her, and even strangers who’ve written to her with their own stories. 

“They tell me I’ve been an inspiration to them,” she said. “It makes me think, maybe I’m not as bad. Everybody’s got their problems, or accidents, or tragedies. And it’s sad, but it’s nice to know you’re amongst others. You’re not alone.”

  • Slideshow Photos

    A new face for Charla

    Charla Nash was severely disabled after she was attacked by a friend's chimp. See how she looked before, and what she looks like now, after a face transplant.

  • Image: To match Reuters Life! FACE-TRANSPLANT/CHIMPANZEE

    A new face for Charla

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    Charla Nash, of Stamford, Conn., is pictured in an undated photo before being attacked and mauled by a friend's pet chimpanzee. On Feb. 16, 2009, after Nash arrived at Sandra Herold's house to help her lure her pet, Travis, back into the house, the animal attacked her, injuring her eyes, lips, nose and all of her fingers save for one solitary thumb. Now permanently blind, Nash has received a full face transplant, the third surgery of its kind performed in the United States.

    Courtesy of Nash Family / Courtesy of Nash Family
  • Travis

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    Travis, a pet belonging to Sandra Herold, weighed 200 pounds and was 10 years old when he mauled Charla Nash. Here's he's shown sitting in the corner of his playroom at Herold's Stamford, Conn., home in 2003.

    AP / AP
  • A new face for Charla

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    This gated driveway led to Sandra Herold's home where Charla Nash was attacked and mauled by Travis, a pet chimpanzee on Feb. 16, 2009. Police say Travis had gotten out of the house and so Nash, a friend of Herold's, came over to help lure him back inside. Herold speculated that Travis was being protective of her and attacked Nash because she had a different hairstyle, was driving a different car and held a stuffed toy in front of her face to get the chimp's attention.

    AP / AP
  • Image: Charles Willenger, Michael Nash

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    Charles Willinger, an attorney, puts his hand on the shoulder of Michael Nash, the brother of Charla Nash, after a court hearing April 13, 2009 in Stamford, Conn., for a lawsuit against Sandra Herold, the owner of the chimp.

    AP / AP
  • Image: Stamford police officer Frank Chiafari

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    Stamford police officer Frank Chiafari testifies in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 25, 2010, before state lawmakers about the need to reform workers compensation laws. Chiafari says he was traumatized after shooting a rampaging chimpanzee to death after it mauled and blinded its owner's friend about a year ago.

    AP / AP
  • Editor's Note:

    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    or use the buttons to navigate away.

    Image: To match Reuters Life! FACE-TRANSPLANT/CHIMPANZEE

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    Charla Nash prior to the May 2011 face transplant.

    Brigham and Women's Hospital via Reuters / Brigham and Women's Hospital via Reuters
  • Image: US face transplant

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    During a 20-hour surgery in May 2011, Charla Nash received a full face transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. At the same time, she also underwent a double hand transplant, which ultimately failed to thrive and had to be removed. Shown, left to right, are Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of the plastic surgery transplantation program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dr. Danial Alam, of the Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Julian Pribaz, the associate chief of plastic surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

    EPA / EPA
  • Editor's Note:

    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, NASH FAMILY MEMBERS VIST CHARLA NASH TRIPLE  TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT FOR FIRST TIME IN ICU

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    Less than 24-hours after Charla Nash's face transplant, surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac allowed her brother, Steve Nash, and daughter, Brianna, to visit her in the intensive care unit of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

    Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, BRIANNA NASH VISITS MOTHER CHARLA NASH FACE TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT IN ROOM

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    Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of the plastic surgery transplantation program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, speaks with Charla Nash on July 5, 2011.

    Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, BRIANNA NASH VISITS MOTHER CHARLA NASH FACE TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT IN ROOM

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    Charla Nash's daughter, Briana, said her mother "looks fantastic," after her face transplant. “You’d never believe something like that could be done. She looks just like everyone else," she told TODAY's Ann Curry in an exclusive interview.

    Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • Today

    A new face for Charla

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    Meredith Vieira speaks to Charla Nash and her daughter, Briana, about her recovery and her new hopes following her May, 2011 face transplant.

    NBC / NBC
  • Today

    A new face for Charla

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    Charla Nash in November, 2011: Nearly three years after the horrific chimp attack that almost killed her, and six months after a 20-hour face transplant operation.

    NBC / NBC
  • Editor's Note:

    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    or use the buttons to navigate away.

    A new face for Charla

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    L-R: Charla Nash before the 2009 chimp attack; after the attack; shortly after her May, 2011 face transplant; and in November, 2011. The donor face has begun to mold to Charla's underlying bone structure, and in another year doctors say it should look totally natural.

    Courtesy of Nash Family, Reuters / Courtesy of Nash Family, Reuters
  • Image: Stephen Nash, Charla Nash

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    Charla Nash arrives with her brother Stephen, left, for a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., on Aug. 10, 2012. Nash who was mauled in a 2009 chimpanzee attack is attending a hearing to determine whether she may sue the state for $150 million in claimed damages.

    AP / AP
  • Image: Charla Nash, Bill Monaco

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    Charla Nash, right, talks with attorney Bill Monaco before a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.

    AP / AP
  • A new face for Charla

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    Charla Nash poses for a portrait at her home on March 13, 2014.

    TODAY / TODAY
  • Image: Charla Nash

    A new face for Charla

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    Charla Nash, a former professional barrel racer, wears her cowgirl hat. Nash, along with the Humane Society, is urging Congress to support the Captive Primates Safety Act.

    Courtesy Shelly Sindland / Courtesy Shelly Sindland


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