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After two years of living behind a veil, Charla Nash revealed on TODAY the new face that science has given her, a visage that replaces the one mangled in a vicious attack by a friend’s pet chimpanzee that left her without a nose, eyes or lips.
That Charla survived the attack at all is amazing in itself. But the new face that Charla has shown the world seems nothing short of miraculous. Once again she has a nose and lips. Once again she may be able to do the simple things we all take for granted: to literally smell the roses, to taste her food, and to breathe through her own nose. Her first meal after the surgery: Eggs and cream cheese.
“I’m beginning to feel my jaw and chin,” Charla told TODAY. “And I can move my mouth and smile. I still feel weak. But little by little I’m getting stronger.”
Her daughter, Briana, is thrilled by Charla’s progress. “It’s just good to see such rapid progress and the happiness that wasn’t there before,” she told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “A new hope has sparked. It’s so nice to see her at it again.”
Seeing emotions play across Charla’s new face has been amazing, Briana told Curry. “Just for her to make an expression — something we had to take from her words before,” Briana said. “It’s nice that her body language can say what she feels.”
As for Charla, she’s working hard at getting back some of what she once had.
“I think she is impatient for recovery,” Briana told TODAY. “Her speech is getting much better and she’s been getting up and starting to eat.”
When Charla told doctors at a recent follow-up visit that she’d regained her sense of smell, an amazed Briana could only utter one word: “Wow.”
Back in May, in a grueling 20-hour surgery, doctors gave Charla her new face. The 30-member surgical team, under the leadership of Dr. Bohdan Pomanhac at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, performed a groundbreaking full face and double hand transplant.
Unfortunately, problems surfaced with the transplanted hands when Charla developed pneumonia, which led to low blood flow in her new hands, and they had to be removed.
Still, Charla pushed on. “All she said is — just like with the attack — we’re going to start from this point and move forward,” her brother, Steve Nash, told Curry. “So we’re very optimistic and just looking forward to the next attempt at [a hand] transplant.”
Charla’s new face thrived, and as time went on and the swelling went down, her face began to mold to her underlying bone structure, giving her an appearance reminiscent of the way she looked before the horrifying attack in 2009.
Charla had gone to visit her friend, Sandra Herold, back in 2009. Charla had just gotten out of her car when Herold’s chimp spotted her, went berserk and attacked. A terrified Herold dialed 911 and Charla was rushed to the hospital where doctors managed to save her life, but not her face or her hands.
After being released from the hospital, Charla was moved to an assisted-living facility, unable to eat solid food and breathing through a tube.
Before the surgery, Charla told TODAY what she was hoping would be the outcome: “I want to be able to eat on my own.”
Charla, it appears, has gotten her wish — and maybe a whole lot more.
And it's all thanks to an anonymous donor family who made the face transplant possible.
“What they’ve done for us is so amazing," Briana said, smiling gratefully. "I’m so thankful they’ve given my mom the hope to move forward and to have a chance for a life again.”
For more information on Charla Nash’s ordeal, visit The Charla Nash Trust website.
Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney. She is co-author of the forthcoming book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic."