As the 55-year-old Connecticut woman savagely mauled by a chimpanzee emerges from her medically induced fog in a Cleveland hospital, it has fallen to her family to explain to her how she came to suffer the horrific injuries that she will have to cope with for the rest of her life.
Charla Nash was attacked in Stamford, Conn., on Feb. 16 by a 200-pound chimpanzee belonging to her friend, Sandra Herold. Nash was permanently blinded in the attack, in which she lost her eyelids, much of her face and her fingers.
She has been in the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio since Feb. 19, where doctors have gradually been reducing her medication. Recently, she spoke for the first time with the aid of an artificial voice box and showed an awareness of her surroundings and her injuries.
“The psychiatrist says she understands a lot about her injuries, but she’s not interested at this time to find out how they occurred,” her brother, Steve Nash, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in an exclusive interview from Cleveland, where he has been staying with his sister since she was taken there for treatment.
“We’re positive all the time we’re with her, saying good morning to her and trying to get her to understand the day of the week, the time of the year and where she is, and telling her she’s in the best place in the world to help with her injuries, and that she had an accident and we’re going to take care of her,” he added.
Steve Nash was joined by his brother and Charla’s twin, Mike Nash, who has been staying in Connecticut caring for his sister’s 17-year-old daughter, Brianna.
“My focus is Charla, giving her hope at this time because this is a real critical time for her where she’s going to realize the scope of her injuries,” Mike Nash told Vieira. “She’s got to know that we’re still here for her and there are still a lot of reasons to keep hope there, tell her that that she has a daughter and a future and she needs to be part of it.”
Doctors had feared that Charla Nash suffered neurological damage from being shaken violently by the chimp, but so far tests haven’t shown that to be the case.
“Since Day 1, the brain scans and MRIs have turned out very positive and very encouraging,” Steve Nash told Vieira. “We’re waiting for her to wake up to prove that’s accurate. That’s the only way to tell. It’s doubtful she has shaken baby syndrome because she speaks so well.”
The brothers have recently filed a $50 million lawsuit against Herold and are contemplating suing the state of Connecticut and the city of Stamford as well for allowing Herald to keep the chimp and for ignoring warnings that the animal was an accident waiting to happen. Herold declined requests for a statement from NBC News.
Two years of surgeries ahead
The Cleveland Clinic issued an update Monday on Charla Nash’s condition. The statement reported: “Over the past ten days, Ms. Nash has made significant neurological and psychological improvement. She is now awake and is able to communicate with her family and caregivers. However, full cognitive recovery could take up to a year. As we have begun to communicate with her, it is clear that her injury has left her completely blind in both eyes, with no chance for improvement.”
Charla Nash’s brothers have established a Web site, friendsofcharlienash.com, where those interested can leave e-mail messages and even sound files that Mike Nash promised to take to his sister. He said he’s conveyed some of the prayers and wishes for recovery to his sister during his current visit.
“I try to read her letters sent by strangers and friends and tell her people are there for her and we’re there for her,” he told Vieira.
Charla Nash was attacked Feb. 16 in Stamford, Conn., when she answered a call from the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold, to help settle the 200-pound animal down. Herold, 70, runs a towing company for which Charla worked as a dispatcher. The two women were friends, and Charla was well known to the 15-year-old chimp, Travis.