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Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who received a face transplant in 2011 after a horrific attack by a friend’s pet chimpanzee, has traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the passage of legislation that would make it harder for people to keep primates as pets.
Nash, who lost her nose, eyes and lips in the 2009 chimp attack, realizes that no legislation can completely halt the exotic animal trade. “I hope it slows down the transporting of them from state to state,” she said in a phone interview with TODAY.com. “The sad part is that a lot of these people have money and can afford to buy an exotic pet and [after the pet has grown too large]they turn it loose into the wild. And then someone is going to get hurt. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else."
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Meanwhile, Nash, one of the first face transplant recipients in the United States, is getting stronger every day as she works out on weight machines.
“The last time I talked to the TODAY Show I thought I was strong,” she said. “But once I started some more training on equipment I realized how weak I’ve been. I have good days and bad days. But I’m feeling stronger and more energetic.”
Nash looks remarkably like her former self, except for a slightly crooked smile. Still, she misses her independence.
“I need someone to help bathe me and to clean my eyes and brush my teeth and feed me,” she said. “There’s lots of things I can’t do. When you are out in the world you see more of what you can’t do.”
Nash is scheduled to appear at a news conference Thursday with representatives of The Humane Society of the United States, which is urging Congress to support the Captive Primates Safety Act. Current legislation outlaws the transport of animals such as lions and tigers across state lines to be used as pets. The new legislation would add nonhuman primates to the list.
She will also meet with members of Congress in hopes that her story might convince them of the need for the new legislation. “I hope that my story will make an impact,” she said.
Approximately 25 states prohibit people from keeping some or all primates as pets, according to the Associated Press. John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy at the Humane Society, told the AP that buyers can skirt those laws by purchasing primates from exotic animal breeders they find online or at large exotic animal auctions.
In 2012, Nash received $4 million from the estate of the chimp's owner, Sandra Herold. Earlier this year the Connecticut General Assembly denied Nash the ability to sue the state in court to cover additional medical costs.
As for the future, Nash isn’t sure what it will bring. “I only take it day by day,” she said. “My hope is that all stays well. I can’t work and so I am living off of Medicaid in Massachusetts.”
Nash would like to be a model of hope for others with devastating injuries.
“I’m hoping that someday I might go to Walter Reed and meet the wounded warriors there, the men and women in the service,” she said. “And maybe I could show them how I’ve done.”