Charla Nash no longer feels like she has to hide in public.
Nearly three years after a horrifying attack by a friend’s chimpanzee and the ensuing surgery that gave her a new face, she tells NBC News’ Meredith Vieira that she feels free to go out in the world.
“Now it’s nice, like I’m going to the store with my brother, Steve, and a little girl was saying hi to me. And that didn’t happen before,” Nash told Vieira in an exclusive interview set to air Monday, Nov. 21 on TODAY.
Nash says her face is still numb after the grueling 20-hour surgery last May at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
She lost her sight — as well as her face and hands — in the attack so has no idea what her new face looks like.
"I've had people tell me I'm beautiful… and they were not telling me I was beautiful before," she said.
Nash, 58, of Stamford, Conn., was severely injured when she went to visit a friend, Sandra Herold, on Feb. 16, 2009. Nash had just gotten out of her car when Herold’s pet chimpanzee spotted her, went berserk and attacked. Nash was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were able to save her life, but not preserve her face or her hands.
Doctors transplanted not only a face but also gave her a double-hand transplant. Both hands failed to thrive as she struggled with pneumonia and circulation problems. They had to be removed.
"I found out later on that they — I had hands and they removed them," Charla said. "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."
In a year, she hopes to be more independent and leave the Boston rehabilitation center where she’s been staying to live in her own house, perhaps with her daughter, Briana.
Nash says she’s eternally grateful to the person whose face was used in the transplant and to the family who allowed it.
“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,” she said. “Because it really gave me a life back. It’s such a wonderful thing. I could not thank them enough."
Tune in to TODAY on Monday to watch the full interview and see Charla Nash's new face.