TODAY   |  November 16, 2009

Chimp attack victim: ‘I always push myself’

Nov. 16: As chimp attack victim Charla Nash continues a long recovery process, she tells TODAY’s Meredith Vieira about what life has been like after the attack. Her family also weighs in on how they see her future.

Share This:

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

>>> back at 8:20 with more of our interview with chimp attack survivor charla nash . i spent time with her this weekend at the cleveland clinic where she is recuperating and where the team that surrounds her has become a second family. during part of our visit, charlie had her veil off in her hospital room as she typically does and we should warn you that her injuries are severe and graphic.

>> okay put it back on and roll it to me.

>> reporter: charla nash is nine months into her recovery. she's come a long, long way and is determined to rebuild her life as best she can. she arrived at the cleveland clinic in a coma, clinging to life. her facial injuries were so severe, few expected her to survive.

>> i think this is one of the first patients in my entire career where i looked at her in the beginning and came to the realization that maybe she shouldn't survive and is there any worth for this woman to ever come back and be alive again. she's proven us wrong. actually all of these obstacles that she's gone through, many of us who took care of her didn't think she could make it through them. it is really a miracle that she has.

>> reporter: charla's family never leaving her side saw one hope after another realized.

>> first, she lived. then, she survived. you know? then we didn't know if she was going to wake up. i mean the day the doctors were going to call me about long-term care, she woke up. i mean it is a miracle. i watched her grow up from an infant to a mature lady in a matter of months.

>> biggest discussion in the next few days is what we're going do for our next step of the procedure. get some rest, charlie .

>> reporter: charla's doctors will perform two more surgeries to rebuild her mouth so she can eat solid food and her nose to increase her breathing passageways. she does therapy three times a week to recoup her strength and navigate without her eyesight. i would think there would be days when you just wake up and you just don't want one more session of physical therapy or occupational therapy or one more doctor poking at you. on those days, those difficult days, what do you say to yourself to get through them, charlie ?

>> well, there are days that i don't feel well, but i always push myself to walk. i have to walk. so i promised my doctor i'd walk every day. plus i like to walk.

>> where does that tenacity come from?

>> i guess -- i don't know. i've always been that way with doing something. always going.

>> reporter: charla has grown close to the hospital staff. she calls her nurses "her girls."

>> she can tell who's out in the hallway just by their voice.

>> hey, charlie . she knows all the gossip on the floor and she knows what's going on before any of us do.

>> reporter: nurse cassie jackson who has cared for charla since she left intensive care had news of her own leaked.

>> i happen to know a little birdie told me that when cassie told you that she was getting engaged you told everybody before she had a chance.

>> i told everybody, do you know cassie got engaged?

>> i guess you redefine what family means, don't you, when you are are in a situation like this.

>> yeah. they're great. all of them. they come in, like on thursday, they started at 6:20 a.m . singing to me. i put in a complaint to the services here.

>> you put in a complaint?

>> i said they're all singing to me all day.

>> reporter: the singing and visits help charla fight the boredom from long days in her hospital bed. she keeps a candy and cookie stash to thank her visitors for coming.

>> you also mentioned you like to listen to books on tape . i wonder when you're listening to these days.

>> ied harry potter . now i'm going to skip some harry potter and go to some history and things.

>> reporter: charla's doctors can't say yet when she will leave the hospital. her family is helping her plan for her future. when you look ahead to your sister's future, you see her best case scenario --

>> being able to eat by herself, you know, bathe herself, clothe herself. i mean that's like --

>> a little independence.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: the nash family says they now appreciate the simple things in life. charla has survived. they have a sister and a mom. what are you going to be thankful for this year, charlie ? what are you giving thanks for?

>> that i'm still around to enjoy it with my family.

>> what about you?

>> that she's alive and i still have my mom.

>> charla does not remember the attack and doesn't want to. she also doesn't want to know the full extent of her injuries. she told me when she gets out she was living in stamford. she wants to go back to a place called sergio's, if you're listening, because she loves the chef salad there so don't take that off the menu.

>> you mention in the first segment that they're hoping she becomes a candidate perhaps for not only hand transplant but a face transplant . what's standing --

>> she has a lot more surgeries before they can even consider that. in places like cleveland clinic don't do both. particularly the hand transplant would be important. i think the people that need the most help are those who turn away and don't see what a human being she really is. we'll be right back