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TODAY   |  November 16, 2009

Chimp victim: ‘I just want to go on with my life’

Nov. 16: Charla Nash, who was brutally attacked by her friend’s chimpanzee, opens up to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira about her recovery and the relationship she had with the chimp and his owner.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> you can do.

>>> but we begin with charla nash . after spending the weekend with her, i discovered that it was not just her indomitable spirit that helped her survive february's brutal chimp attack, but also her great sense of humor and her love of life . she is surrounded by devoted friends and family who have been by her side through it all. they call her charlie , and so did i during our interview. but a warning -- her injuries were severe and some of the images that you're going to see of charlie are graphic.

>> you never know.

>> reporter: february 16th , 2009 . it was a day that would change charla nash 's life forever. she answered a call for help from her friend whose pet chimpanzee had gotten loose. charla nash suffered life-threatening injuries. she lay in a coma. few expected her to survive.

>> this is a three-dimensional cat scan of charla nash at the time of her injury. the real challenge we faces, not only was all of the skin, fat, tissues of her nose, lips and everything missing, but her actual bone structure underneath had been completely shattered.

>> reporter: her doctors say her sheer will to live helped charla nash defy insurmountable odds. there was a time, charlie , when you first came here that doctors didn't think you were going to make it. your own doctor, when he was asked about you, said, you know what? it's a miracle.

>> that's what they told me. they told me that they were happy i was still here.

>> is that how you see it, charlie ?

>> at first i didn't know. i didn't knowfy really wanted to be here. and i was awake and i just -- just didn't feel that well.

>> so why didn't you give up?

>> everybody here and my daughter. thinking about her. my brother's talking to me. everybody helped me.

>> reporter: her brothers, steve and mike, who is her twin, have rarely left charla's side since the attack nine months ago, providing her with books on tape and movies, and reading cards to her.

>> we have been praying for your family since the accident.

>> reporter: thousands of notes have poured in from people as inspired by charla as she is by their support. but perhaps charla's greatest inspiration is her 17-year-old daughter, brianna, who now lives with a family friend in connecticut while she finishes high school . she visits her mom in cleveland when she can, curling up in bed with her, updating her on her life.

>> i just got my report card yesterday actually. told her that as soon as i saw her.

>> she did she do, mom?

>> all "as." i'm so happy.

>> would you expect less from her?

>> well, sometimes she gets a "b." you push her to "as."

>> when this all firsthand, brianna, what was this like for you?

>> well, i tried to not let it affect me too much. i thought about it sometimes but not too long. just let life go on normally and acted like it didn't happen.

>> i get the impression that you guys were thick as thieves. you're smiling. it's true?

>> yeah.

>> yeah.

>> just the two of us in a two-room apartment.

>> yeah. we used to go shopping together and laugh at the clothes and stuff.

>> did just about everything together.

>> yeah.

>> when you look at your mom, what do you see?

>> i don't see anything but her. like how she always was. same person. still worrying.

>> still worrying about you?

>> yes.

>> but, you know, she's same exact person.

>> what do you wish for your mom at this point if.

>> i just want her to be able to be as independent as she could be and i want to be able to be around her, of course, as much as i can and be supportive and i'm proud of her.

>> are you proud of the way she's come through this so far?

>> very. very. i mean i don't think i'd ever be able to get through it. i feel like i'd sit there and feel sorry for myself. she doesn't do that. she's just one foot in front of the other and keep getting better.

>> but you have a little bit to do with that, i think, kid dodo.

>> i think we both just want do each other roud.

>> reporter: therapists at cleveland clinic work with charla to help her gain greater independence. helping her navigate better without sight or hands. the family hopes charla will and candidate for a hand transplant and even a face transplant in the future. the surgeries to date at the cleveland clinic , just two, have been simply about saving her life. charla needs round-the-clock care, and she may for the rest of her life. you and your family are suing sondra harrell for $50 million. you filed an intent to sue the state of connecticut for another $150 million. what do you hope to achieve with the lawsuits, mike?

>> sondra should be responsible. i don't believe there was like -- she wanted it to happen, but i think she could have prevented it and it shouldn't have happened. same with the state. they knew about travis . they did create law. a lot of it centered around travis himself. and you leave the animal still in the environment where he could hurt the public. the other thing is, you know, charlie 's life is going to be much more expensive. if it's 24/7, you're talking a lot of money. that will never replace her life. it will never be the same. it will just help make things easier.

>> reporter: a statement released by sondra harrell's attorney reads, "sandy hopes and prays for a speedy recovery for her friend, charla nash . sandy is encouraged by the fact that charla's recovery appears to be progressing and prays for had he continued improvement."

>> that was her pet. it was something she always wanted. one time her husband called me up and said, could you find a home for him? so i found a home. but no place was good enough for travis , she says. nobody would take care of him like her. she just didn't want to get rid of him.

>> did you ever talk to her about that? ever say "i'm scared of this chimp"?

>> oh, i was afraid of him. he was big. he wasn't like a chimpanzee. he was like a gorilla. he was huge. very, very huge.

>> she has said since all of this, recently actually, she talked about how much she cared for you and you were her friend. do you feel the same way?

>> well, i thought we were friends. you know? i don't know anymore. i heard a couple statements that make me wonder. i don't want to have hard feelings. i just want to go on with my life and get better.

>> reporter: doctors say charla will remain at the cleveland clinic for the next few months. two more surgeries are planned. she enjoys daily walks on the grounds to rebuild her strength. i witnessed firsthand her determination to get better as well as her quick wit.

>> you move at a good clip, i'll tell you that.

>> you're kind of slow.

>> huh? i'm kind of slow? my god. oh, all right, wise guy . well, i have no comeback, charlie .

>> reporter: she gave me a rare look at her room where she spends most of her days.

>> you've got a bag of candy. what do have you all this for, charlie ?

>> that's for all my friends and family.

>> reporter: charla says she's hoping now that she has come forward, the media attention will fade away and she can focus simply on getting better. there was this lady who has been following your story and so admires her strength and more than that your grace. she wants to pray for you. she is a spirit all lady. she says what should i pray for for her?

>> well, just keep the strength with me. you know? and a lot of people send e-mails that are praying for me and letters and i'm sure that helped pull me through, too. all the prayers.

>> in just a bhit, we'll have much more with charla and her daughter and the very special hospital team who have become her second devoted family. but first, let's get