1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: Charla Nash reveals ‘beautiful’ new face

  1. Transcript of: Charla Nash reveals ‘beautiful’ new face

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Now to a TODAY exclusive, and the reason Meredith is back with us this morning. She recently caught up with chimpanzee attack victim, Charla Nash , who underwent a groundbreaking face transplant earlier this year. It is Charla 's first interview with a new face. Meredith , first of all, it's good to have you back, and I can't wait to see the story.

    MEREDITH VIEIRA reporting: Yeah, it is great to be back especially with good news about Charla . I've gotten the -- had the opportunity to get to know her over the past few years and to really witness firsthand her story of survival and tremendous strength. And now she has a new face, which is a testament, not only to modern medicine, but also to her fierce determination to overcome the incredible challenges in her life. Charla Nash 's story might be unbelievable, if it wasn't all true. Her life was forever changed in a day, February 16th , 2009 .

    Chimpanzee Owner: He's killing my friend!

    911 Operator: Who's killing your friend?

    Owner: My chimp! My chimpanzee!

    VIEIRA: Charla was barely alive. A chimpanzee had taken off her nose, mouth and hands and left her permanently blind. Nearly three years later, following countless medical procedures, Charla 's great hope would come through. Surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston performed the country's first ever double hand and face transplants. Wow! You really look fantastic, Charlie .

    Ms. CHARLA NASH: Thank you.

    VIEIRA: I'm just -- I apologize, I'm looking at your face, and I am in awe. How are you feeling?

    Ms. NASH: I'm doing good, but I've had a lot of setbacks. After I had the face and hand transplants, I had pneumonia. I got -- I was so sick they said I was dying.

    VIEIRA: Just days after the surgery, doctors rushed Charla back into the OR to save her life. When you woke up and they said to you, 'The good news is, face transplant is looking great. The bad news is, because of an infection, we lost circulation, the kinds of circulation we need for your hands, and we had to remove them,' after having had a successful transplant. What was your reaction to that?

    Ms. NASH: When I got better, then I felt disappointed that I had hands and they had to remove them.

    VIEIRA: Doctors say in as little time as a year, Charla could be approved for another hand transplant surgery. She can now eat solid foods, has regained her sense of smell. And though she remains blind, she's been fitted with prosthetic eyes. Do you have any sense, even in your mind's eye, of what you look like now?

    Ms. NASH: No.

    VIEIRA: None?

    Ms. NASH: But I've had people tell me I'm beautiful, and nobody ever told me I was beautiful before. So...

    VIEIRA: Well, you do look beautiful. You look great.

    Ms. NASH: Thank you.

    VIEIRA: Can you touch your face with your thumb, do you ever do that just to feel the...

    Ms. NASH: Yes, I can touch it. I can't really feel anything, but I know I'm touching my skin and my cheek. I can't feel like in the middle of my face, like the top lip and the nose. I lost all the nerves there, so it's going to be a long time before everything, you know, can work.

    VIEIRA: And now you're able to eat solid food for a change. What do you get to eat that you couldn't before?

    Ms. NASH: I had baked potato skins with cheese and sour cream. And I had french fries with Parmesan cheese .

    VIEIRA: You like your junk food , don't you, Charlie ?

    Ms. NASH: Yeah, I went to IHOP .

    VIEIRA: IHOP , yeah.

    Ms. NASH: I had two eggs over easy , bacon, hash brown potatoes and toast.

    VIEIRA: Charla 's doctors say the healing will continue for the next year. Her face won't resemble the donor. Instead, it will conform to her own bone structure.

    Dr. BOHDAN POMAHAC (Brigham and Women's Hospital): What we have seen is that the face almost blends in and becomes the patient's own, to the point that I think the regular person passing by will not be even able to tell.

    VIEIRA: Charla 's daughter, Briana , by her mom's side through it all, says she's still the same mom. What do you see when you look at your mom?

    Ms. BRIANA NASH: I'm still waiting for some of the underlying bone structure to still take some shape on her cheeks, but it's my mom.

    VIEIRA: On the day we met up with Charla , we took a special trip to the Boston Symphony Orchestra . So first time at the symphony for you, what did you think?

    Ms. NASH: Nice.

    VIEIRA: Nice. And later, a reminder of how her story has touched others.

    Unidentified Woman: If you only knew how many people read about you and talked to you and prayed for you.

    Ms. NASH: I know, I can hear all the prayers. They're in there for me. Thank you.

    VIEIRA: And now Charla is speaking out, hoping to make a difference, encouraging legislation prohibiting wild animals as pets.

    Ms. NASH: I lived in Connecticut , and there were restrictions against these animals, but they didn't enforce them.

    VIEIRA: Charla , have you come to peace with what happened to you?

    Ms. NASH: Well, I know I can't go back and change what happened, but I can go forward and think about helping with, you know, the future of these animals and people's safety. And I 'm glad I'm still here.

    VIEIRA: And the person who gave this gift to you, who is no longer here, obviously, what would you say to that woman's family?

    Ms. NASH: Words can't even say enough. It's really given me a life back. I mean, it is such a wonderful thing. I cannot thank them enough.

    VIEIRA: Charla 's doctors said in giving her the face transplant , Matt , they were hoping to give her back her humanity. And she tells this story about the first time she went out and didn't have to wear a veil, and a little girl came up to her and said hello. And she realized in that moment she wasn't scaring people anymore.

    LAUER: I'm not sure she ever lost her humanity just because of what we've heard from her over the years, but I know what you mean, exactly.

    VIEIRA: But people attach that to a face. Exactly. She didn't.

    LAUER: The hands. I mean, that was -- I didn't realize that they had to remove the hands. So is there any timetable? You mentioned that she could be in line for that?

    VIEIRA: Yeah, it was a successful transplant, and that's what people have to remember. She developed an infection afterwards, pneumonia, which caused the circulation problem.

    LAUER: Right.

    VIEIRA: They say when she regains her strength, within a year she could have...

    LAUER: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: ...a hand -- face -- I mean hand transplants. And, at that point, she told me she was going to get a seeing eye dog and she'd be good to go. So that will give her real independence when she reaches that point. But she's an incredible woman.

    LAUER: It's wonderful to see her doing so well. Great to see you as well.

    VIEIRA: You too.

    LAUER: Pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving.

    VIEIRA: Happy Thanksgiving.

By
TODAY.com
updated 11/21/2011 7:35:58 AM ET 2011-11-21T12:35:58

Meredith Vieira couldn’t stop staring at Charla Nash’s face.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. San Francisco radio station bans Lorde's 'Royals,' KC plays it hourly

      Keep that tiger on a gold leash away from the City by the Bay. Two San Francisco radio stations have announced that they w...

    2. See sparks fly as fire hits 'Downton Abbey' in trailer for 5th season
    3. Get ready for an airfare war, Dallas Love Field reopened
    4. Dad of 5 Jim Gaffigan: Shellfish are like ‘snots in a rock’
    5. 'You shall not pass!' Ian McKellen warns students in viral video

That’s nothing new for Nash – nearly three years after a horrific chimp attack literally tore her face off, she’s gotten used to people staring. What was new was the reason for the attention.

“Wow. You really look fantastic,” Vieira told Nash. “I’m just—I— I apologize. I'm looking at your face and I am in awe.”

After a full face transplant, Nash has begun venturing out into public again, no longer worried her severely disfigured face would frighten people. On Monday, she revealed that new face in an exclusive interview on TODAY.

Courtesy of Nash Family/NBC
Slideshow: A new face for Charla (on this page)

As the donor face has begun molding to Nash’s underlying bone structure, Nash has begun returning to more of her normal life. She particularly remembered one day she went to the store with her brother.

While shopping they ran into a little girl, who said hello to Nash.

“That didn't happen before,”  Nash told Vieira. “It was nice. The little girl was saying hi to me.  I looked like I’ve got eyes and everything. …I’m not scaring anybody.”

Producer's Notebook: Behind the scenes with Charla Nash
TODAY Moms: Charla Nash and her daughter Briana
allDAY: Meredith Vieira on Charla's beautiful spirit

Because she was permanently blinded in the attack, Nash cannot see her own face. She can’t even feel it because the attack also took her hands. So she has to depend on the feedback of others.

“I’ve had people tell me I’m beautiful,” Nash told Vieira. “And they were not telling me I was beautiful before.”

Today
Bizuayehu Tesfaye  /  Bizuayehu Tesfaye/NBC
Six months after her face transplant, Charla Nash tells TODAY she doesn't worry about scaring children in public anymore.

Nash got her new face in a groundbreaking, 20-hour triple transplant surgery. Doctors replaced not only her face, but also the two hands ripped off in the horrific attack. The face thrived. Unfortunately there were problems with the hands. Because Nash developed pneumonia shortly after the transplant, her circulation was compromised and the hands began to deteriorate and doctors decided to remove them.

Related: Chimp attack victim reveals new face

At the time, Nash was struggling just to survive the operation.

"I found out later on that they — I had hands and they removed them," Nash told Vieira. "And it didn't really bother me because I was too sick to worry about that, you know? … And then later on, I was disappointed that, you know, I had them and they're gone again. But I'm hoping, you know, for in the future, that it can be done again."

The good news: doctors have told her that she might be able to try a hand transplant again in as little as a year.

And Charla’s face will continue to heal over the coming year, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital. “What we have seen is that the face almost blends in and becomes the patient's own, to the point that I think that regular person passing by will not be even able to tell,” he told TODAY.

Related: Charla Nash is 'strong,' brother says after attack

For now, though, Nash is just happy to be able to actually chew food and to smell the world around her. Even scents the rest of us might find off-putting are wonderful to her: “I can smell the nurse that come in. I can smell their perfume and …. They all smell pretty.”

Nash’s daughter, Briana, feels like she’s gotten her mom back.  The transplanted face has been molding to Nash’s bone structure and now she’s starting to look like she did before the attack, Brianna says.

“She looks similar,” Briana told Vieira. “I mean the nose is very similar. I’m still waiting for the underlying bone structure to take some shape on her cheeks. But it’s my mom.”

Courtesy of Nash Family, Reuters
L-R, chimp attack victim Charla Nash is pictured before her injury; after the attack that took her face and hands; right after her face transplant in May of 2011; and in November 2011.

It has been a long journey since that horrifying day on Feb. 16, 2009.

Nash had come to visit her friend, Sandra Herold, to help with her pet chimp, Travis.

Travis was something of a local celebrity in their hometown of Stamford, Conn. He had appeared in commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, been a guest on Maury Povich’s talk show, and was a familiar sight around town, riding in a car with his owners. But the chimp could also be aggressive, and Nash said she often felt uncomfortable around her friend's large, powerful "pet" before the attack.

Nash had just gotten out of her car when Travis spotted her, went berserk and attacked. A terrified Herold dialed 911 and Nash was rushed to the hospital where doctors managed to save her life, but not her face or her hands.

Nash was so terribly mauled that the policeman who responded to the call at first didn’t recognize Nash as human, and then, when he got closer, couldn’t tell if she was male or female.

Related: Experts try to explain chimp's rampage

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

The Nashes know that their salvation came at the cost of someone else’s tragedy.  And they are grateful beyond words to the family and the person who donated her new face.

“Words can’t even say enough, but that donation, you know, as hard as it was for them, was a wonderful gift for us, me and my family,” Nash told Vieira. “Because it really gave me a life back. It’s such a wonderful thing. I could not thank them enough. “

Charla Nash's family has established a fund for her care at nashtrust.com.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: A new face for Charla

loading photos...
  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
  6. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    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
  8. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    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
  13. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    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
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Tony Dejak / AP

    Cleveland captive says she now forgives her kidnapper

    10/20/2014 6:47:02 PM +00:00 2014-10-20T18:47:02
  1. Three big expenses you'll save on this fall

    10/20/2014 1:35:24 PM +00:00 2014-10-20T13:35:24
  1. TODAY'

    How a haunted house sent Tamron Hall to the hospital

    10/20/2014 4:09:53 PM +00:00 2014-10-20T16:09:53
  1. Another U.S. Ebola patient recovers at Emory

    An American doctor infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone last month has gone quietly home after spending six weeks at Emory University’s special biocontainment unit, the hospital said Monday.

    10/20/2014 8:43:47 PM +00:00 2014-10-20T20:43:47