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Video: Chimp victim’s brother speaks out

By
TODAY contributor
updated 3/5/2009 9:40:32 AM ET 2009-03-05T14:40:32

More than two weeks after she was savagely mauled by a friend’s pet chimpanzee, a Connecticut woman remains under heavy sedation, fighting for her life. Meanwhile, two brothers and her teenage daughter are coping with the prospects of a recovery process that — should she survive — will take a very long time.

“This will be years — [it’s] hard for one family to deal with,” Charla Nash’s twin brother, Mike Nash, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday in New York. “You got your personal life, and you got a relative far away. [It’s] just hard to deal with everything.”

Charla Nash lost her hands, nose, lips, eyelids and bone structure in her face in the Feb. 16 attack in Stamford, Conn., and may be blind and suffering brain damage, according to the Cleveland Clinic, where the 55-year-old woman is being cared for. Her injuries were so horrific that even the doctors and nurses and technicians who battled to save her life were shocked.

Will to live
News reports have talked about the possibility that she may be a candidate for a face transplant, but doctors have cautioned that it is too early to discuss that yet. Right now, they are focused on just keeping her alive.

Described as a strong-willed, outgoing and independent woman who loved horses and was once a rodeo barrel racer, Charla Nash has a 17-year-old daughter, Brianna. The daughter is currently staying with Mike Nash, her uncle, who told Vieira that he and Brianna visited Charla in the hospital.

“She has seen her mom,” Mike Nash told Vieira, adding that Brianna is “a strong young lady. We went in, said a prayer. It’s horrific, but she’s strong and knows her mother’s strong.”

That assessment was confirmed by Dr. Kevin Miller, the lead surgeon who saved Charla Nash’s life when she was brought to Stamford Hospital by local EMS personnel. “Her will to live is what got her through,” Miller told Vieira.

Emotions on hold
Mike Nash is working to get legal guardianship of Brianna while another brother, Steve, has moved to Cleveland to be near Charla. Mike Nash told Vieira he can’t allow himself to be angry or to talk about how he feels about what happened.

“My focus is my sister, taking care of her daughter. That’s my focus,” he said. “Everything else I put in the back of my head, any feelings, emotions — this is not the place for them. My action right now is to get guardianship of Brianna so I can be legally able to protect and provide for her.

TODAY
Dr. Kevin Miller (left), the lead surgeon at Stamford Hospital who treated Charla Nash's injuries, appeared with Mike Nash on TODAY.
“If I speak now, it would be emotional; it wouldn’t be with knowing all the facts,” he added. “It’s best I wait.”

Mike Nash told NBC News that his sister does not have health insurance. He said her family has set up a Web site, nashtrust.com, for those who want to follow her progress and contribute to her care.

Charla was attacked when she answered a call from the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold, to help settle the 200-pound animal down. Herold, 70, runs a towing company for which Charla worked as a dispatcher. The two women were friends, and Charla was well known to the 15-year-old chimp, Travis.

But when Charla Nash arrived at Herold’s home, Travis attacked her. Herold stabbed the chimp with a kitchen knife, but he would not leave off the attack. Herold was hysterical by the time she called 911, telling a dispatcher her chimp was tearing her friend’s face off and begging police to come with guns to shoot and kill the pet she had raised from infancy.

Former TV star
Travis had appeared in commercials for Old Navy and Coke and made other TV appearances when he was younger, and he was a celebrity in Stamford. He was toilet-trained, drank wine from a long-stemmed glass, dined on lobster and filet mignon, surfed the Internet looking at pictures and reportedly even slept with Herold.

TODAY
Mike Nash said he is keeping his emotions in check while focusing on his twin sister (right) and her daughter.
However, Travis reportedly bit an animal control officer a number of years ago. In 2003, he jumped out of Herold’s car and stopped traffic in downtown Stamford for two hours as police tried to corral him, but the incident was judged to be mischievous and not malicious. Herold has told NBC News there was never any indication that Travis would so viciously attack anyone.

Police who arrived to rescue Charla Nash shot Travis to death when he tried to attack them.

Since the attack, legislation has been introduced in Congress to stop interstate trafficking in chimpanzees and other primates.

Jeanne Rizzotto, a Montana woman who lives with two chimpanzees she treats as her children, told NBC News that anyone can buy a male chimpanzee from a breeder in Missouri. The price — payable in cash — is $50,000 for a male and $65,000 for a female. Most are reportedly sold for research, but The Great Ape Project puts the number of “privately owned chimps” at about 225.

Cute — but dangerous
Wildlife experts say that chimpanzees, which are the closest living relatives to humans, may be cute, but they also have at least twice the strength of a human of similar size and can be extremely dangerous.

TODAY
Charla Nash is a “friendly, giving person,” according to her brother Mike.

“These are dangerous animals and they belong in the wild,” wildlife expert Mike Markarian told NBC News.

But Mike Nash is leaving the debate over whether chimps should be kept as pets to others. His focus is on his niece while his brother, Steve, keeps vigil in Cleveland.

“Charla is just a friendly, giving person,” Mike Nash told Vieira. “She’ll befriend everybody. [She’s] generous and a great mother. She raised one daughter, very involved in her school, extracurricular activities — just a devoted mother.”

Nash knows the family is in for a long and difficult road. “It’s going to be slow, day to day,” he told Vieira. “My brother goes in there, talks to her, tells her her daughter’s OK. She still hasn’t woken up yet.”

For information on how you can help Charla Nash, visit The Charla Nash Trust Web site or call 1-866-228-5970.

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