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Video: Chimp attack victim’s new face revealed

  1. Transcript of: Chimp attack victim’s new face revealed

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:10 with the latest chapter in Charla Nash 's amazing recovery. In May, she underwent a groundbreaking facial transplant, more than two years after being attacked and nearly killed by a friend's chimpanzee. We're about to see Charla 's new face for the very first time. And while some of the images you may be seeing now, may be disturbing, the transformation really is remarkable. NBC 's Jeff Rossen is now joining us with the story. Hey, Jeff.

    JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hi, Ann. Good morning. Charla Nash was attacked right up this driveway behind me, and it was violent. Travis the Chimp , ripped off her face and her hands . Her mere survival, a medical miracle. But turns out, that wouldn't be the only miracle. Two and a half years later, countless surgeries later, Charla Nash has a new face. And this morning, you're about to see it for the first time . The transformation has been difficult to watch, from beautiful, vibrant mother to helpless victim, disfigured and unrecognizable. After the attack, Charla Nash wore a veil to cover herself. Travis the Chimp came at her with such force, Charla never stood a chance.

    Chimpanzee Owner: He's killing my friend!

    911 Operator: Who's killing your friend?

    Chimpanzee Owner: My chimp! My chimpanzee!

    ROSSEN: The chimp took off Charla 's nose, mouth, and hands and left her permanently blind. Doctors saved her life, but wouldn't stop there. Attempting the country's first ever, double-hand and face transplants. Charla spoke with NBC News just weeks before her life-changing operation.

    Ms. CHARLA NASH: Getting my face and hands together. That would be nice. All in one . Being able to do everything on my own.

    ROSSEN: These are the first images of Charla 's new face, revealed this morning for the first time . Her brother and teenage daughter, Briana , were at the hospital when the bandages came off. And the progress is stunning. This photo was taken just after the surgery, two months ago. And this is Charla today. The swelling has gone down and her new face has molded to her bone structure.

    Ms. BRIANA NASH (Charla Nash's Daughter): Well, I think she's pretty impatient as to recovery. But she's recovering very well. She -- her speech is getting much better. She's been getting up, and she's starting to eat.

    ROSSEN: Charla is still too weak to give an interview, but told us, "I'm beginning to feel my jaw and chin, and I can move my mouth and smile."

    Ms. NASH: Can she smell yet?

    Dr. BOHDAN POMAHAC (Brigham and Women's Hospital): Yeah, yeah.

    Ms. NASH: Really?

    Dr. POMAHAC: Yeah. Can you smell Charlie ? Yeah.

    Ms. NASH: Wow.

    ROSSEN: Charla is also breathing on her own now. And remember, she hasn't eaten solid food since the attack. Her first meal with her new face? Eggs with cream cheese. "I still feel weak," Charla told us, "but, little by little, I'm getting stronger."

    Dr. POMAHAC: Charla has been doing very well. She has met all her milestones so far and has been stronger everyday both mentally and physically.

    ROSSEN: The surgery took more than a dozen doctors and lasted 20 hours. There were complications, though, after the operation. And Charla 's new hands had to be removed. But her new face took and has already changed her life. Today, Charla is in intensive therapy and, for the first time since the attack, she's able to do things that most of us take for granted -- eating, talking, smelling. Doctors aren't exactly sure when she'll have full function back in her face. It all depends on her progress, but so far they like what they see. And for Charla 's family, there's new hope after years of such pain.

    Ann: Jeff Rossen , thank you so much . Charla 's brother, Steve , and her daughter, Briana , are now joining us exclusively. Good morning to both of you.

    CURRY: Good morning.

    Ms. NASH: A miracle? What other words would you use?

    CURRY: Just, wow.

    Ms. NASH: You've been watching her face form over this period of time. The last time we talked to you, she was in ICU . What has it been like to see her emerge again?

    CURRY: It's just good to see the rapid progress and just the happiness that wasn't there before. New hope has been sparked, and it's just so nice to just see her ready to get at it again.

    Ms. NASH: Yeah. What about for you, Steve ?

    CURRY: Well, initially, after the operation, she was quite sick. So I was there like for two weeks, and I don't know if she even said ten words to me during that time. And so, from that point and then now, we're -- they interviewed her this morning, and they got her to talk. They, you know, they mentioned her statements and everything. And her optimism is, you know, back again. And so, we're quite ecstatic.

    Mr. STEVE NASH: The idea that now there is the possibility, the beginnings of her own ability to smile. I see you smiling, Steve , and you, Briana , just thinking about that. What does that mean to your family? What does that mean to Charla ?

    CURRY: Just for her to make an expression, something that we've had to take from her words before, it's just nice that she -- her body language can express how she feels.

    Ms. NASH: She's hitting all the milestones, doctors say, breathing on her own, smelling, eating solid food. It really is amazing. At the same time, she has faced such a -- one grueling challenge after the other. And shortly after the surgery, she had to have both hands removed because of the complications. So how -- what would you have to say about her resiliency?

    CURRY: Well, first, I want to mention that the hands , they were a successful transplant. It was complications with pneumonia that made it so they didn't -- the doctors say they didn't thrive. And, of course, there was no circulation to the hands , or not enough circulation, so -- but, and I forgot your question.

    Mr. NASH: She wants independence.

    CURRY: Oh, yeah.

    Mr. NASH: And so it's got to hurt not to have those hands for her emotionally. It's got to hurt emotionally. So how has she stayed strong?

    CURRY: All she said is, you know, just like with the attack, that we're going to start from this point and look forward, you know. And we're very optimistic that the face thrived and just looking forward to the next attempt at the transplant.

    Mr. NASH: So there will be another effort to transplant her hands ? Are there many more surgeries planned? What is the future, Briana ?

    CURRY: I'm not really sure. I know for now we're just worrying about getting her strength back and just in general, just getting her back on her feet and used to her face. And just worrying about the stuff in the process.

    Ms. NASH: You don't know who donated so that your mother could have her face.

    CURRY: No, but I just...

    Ms. NASH: What would you say to that person's family?

    CURRY: Just that what they've done for us is just so amazing. And just, I'm so thankful, and it's just really given my mom the hope to move forward and a chance at a life again.

    Ms. NASH: You want to encourage other people to donate if they can?

    CURRY: Right. I think this is a good opportunity to mention to people that they should prepare for that event now while their loved ones can express their opinions on what they want to do. And it's just modern science moving forward, you know. But if they do consult with their loved ones, they'll know their feelings and make an educated decision.

    Mr. NASH: Well, Steve Nash , we're so happy to see your family moving forward. Briana , look at you smiling. There you are. Briana , thanks for being here. It's been great, and our best. Please hug Charla for us.

    CURRY: Of course.

    Ms. NASH: And we're back right after this.


TODAY contributor
updated 8/11/2011 8:17:35 AM ET 2011-08-11T12:17:35

After two years of living behind a veil, Charla Nash revealed on TODAY the new face that science has given her, a visage that replaces the one mangled in a vicious attack by a friend’s pet chimpanzee that left her without a nose, eyes or lips.

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That Charla survived the attack at all is amazing in itself. But the new face that Charla has shown the world seems nothing short of miraculous. Once again she has a nose and lips. Once again she may be able to do the simple things we all take for granted: to literally smell the roses, to taste her food, and to breathe through her own nose. Her first meal after the surgery: Eggs and cream cheese.

“I’m beginning to feel my jaw and chin,” Charla told TODAY. “And I can move my mouth and smile. I still feel weak. But little by little I’m getting stronger.”

Story: Chimp attack victim is ‘strong,’ her brother says

Her daughter, Briana, is thrilled by Charla’s progress. “It’s just good to see such rapid progress and the happiness that wasn’t there before,” she told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “A new hope has sparked. It’s so nice to see her at it again.”

Seeing emotions play across Charla’s new face has been amazing, Briana told Curry. “Just for her to make an expression — something we had to take from her words before,” Briana said. “It’s nice that her body language can say what she feels.”

As for Charla, she’s working hard at getting back some of what she once had.

“I think she is impatient for recovery,” Briana told TODAY. “Her speech is getting much better and she’s been getting up and starting to eat.”

When Charla told doctors at a recent follow-up visit that she’d regained her sense of smell, an amazed Briana could only utter one word: “Wow.”

Back in May, in a grueling 20-hour surgery, doctors gave Charla her new face. The 30-member surgical team, under the leadership of Dr. Bohdan Pomanhac at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, performed a groundbreaking full face and double hand transplant.

Story: Chimp victim doesn’t recall attack

Unfortunately, problems surfaced with the transplanted hands when Charla developed pneumonia, which led to low blood flow in her new hands, and they had to be removed.

Still, Charla pushed on. “All she said is — just like with the attack — we’re going to start from this point and move forward,” her brother, Steve Nash, told Curry. “So we’re very optimistic and just looking forward to the next attempt at [a hand] transplant.”

Charla’s new face thrived, and as time went on and the swelling went down, her face began to mold to her underlying bone structure, giving her an appearance reminiscent of the way she looked before the horrifying attack in 2009.

Charla had gone to visit her friend, Sandra Herold, back in 2009. Charla had just gotten out of her car when Herold’s chimp spotted her, went berserk and attacked. A terrified Herold dialed 911 and Charla was rushed to the hospital where doctors managed to save her life, but not her face or her hands.

Story: Experts try to explain pet chimp’s rampage

After being released from the hospital, Charla was moved to an assisted-living facility, unable to eat solid food and breathing through a tube.

Before the surgery, Charla told TODAY what she was hoping would be the outcome: “I want to be able to eat on my own.”

Charla, it appears, has gotten her wish — and maybe a whole lot more.

And it's all thanks to an anonymous donor family who made the face transplant possible.

“What they’ve done for us is so amazing," Briana said, smiling gratefully. "I’m so thankful they’ve given my mom the hope to move forward and to have a chance for a life again.”

For more information on Charla Nash’s ordeal, visit The Charla Nash Trust website.

Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney. She is co-author of the forthcoming book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic."

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: A new face for Charla

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  1. 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) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 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. (Kathleen O'rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 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. (Douglas Healey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 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. (Douglas Healey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 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) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Charla Nash prior to the May 2011 face transplant. (Brigham and Women's Hospital via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 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) Back to slideshow navigation
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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. (J. Kiely Jr. / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of the plastic surgery transplantation program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, speaks with Charla Nash on July 5, 2011. (J. Kiely Jr. / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 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. (J. Kiely Jr. / Lightchaser Photography via Brigham and Women's Hospital) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Meredith Vieira speaks to Charla Nash and her daughter, Briana, about her recovery and her new hopes following her May, 2011 face transplant. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 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. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
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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) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 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. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Charla Nash, right, talks with attorney Bill Monaco before a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Charla Nash poses for a portrait at her home on March 13, 2014. (Brandon Goodwin / TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 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) Back to slideshow navigation
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