Chimp attack woman Charla Nash has full face transplant

Jun 11, 2011

Surgeons operate on Charla Nash

Doctors who operated on Charla Nash said she was "a courageous, strong person"

A US woman whose face was torn off by a chimpanzee in 2009 has received a full face transplant.

Charla Nash lost her nose, lips, an eyelid and her hands when the animal, which was kept by a friend as a pet, attacked her. She was also left blind.

Doctors said there had been numerous complications during the 20-hour operation in Boston last month and that Ms Nash had only recently woken up.

She was also given two new hands but they later had to be removed.

The operation, involving a team of 30 medics, was the third full face transplant to be carried out at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Hands turned septic

Ms Nash, who did not appear at the hospital news conference, was given a new nose and lips as well as facial skin, nerves, muscles and teeth. She remains blind.

She will eventually be able to eat a hamburger, something very important her, having only had pureed food since her injury” Dr Bohdan Pomahac Lead surgeon

Lead surgeon Dr Bohdan Pomahac described her as a "courageous, strong person" who had inspired the team to "do everything possible using our collective expertise to restore her quality of life".

He said he was confident she would regain muscle control of her face in the coming months and that she should be able to smell and to eat normally.

"She will eventually be able to eat a hamburger, something she said was very important her, having only had pureed food since her injury, and I think we can all relate to that."

But he said the double hand transplant had proved to be "very challenging" and ultimately unsuccessful, after Ms Nash developed pneumonia and the hands became septic.

"After several days of doing everything possible to maintain the hands it was clear they were not thriving, so we removed the hands," he said.

'Still groggy'

John Orr, a spokesman for Ms Nash's family, said Ms Nash had been unconscious since the operation and was only just starting to wake up.

Charla Nash photographed before the attack

Charla Nash, pictured before the attack

"She's still groggy. She's acknowledging with a nod that someone is there, but she still has pneumonia issues," he said.

Ms Nash's brother, Steve Nash, said the operation was "miraculous".

"We are confident Charla will gain her goal to regain her health and independence in the future," he said.

Ms Nash was attacked by a 200lb (95kg) pet chimpanzee, known as Travis, for 12 minutes in 2009.

The chimp's owner, Sandra Herold, died last year but the Nash family is suing her estate for $50m (£31m) for negligence and recklessness. They also hope to sue the state for $150m, saying the authorities failed to prevent the attack.

About a dozen face transplants have been carried out since the first in France in 2005 and the first full face operation was completed in Spain in 2010.

In March, 26-year-old Dallas Wiens became the recipient of the first US full face transplant in an operation at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Two months later, Mr Wiens, who lost his face in an electrical accident in 2008, said the face felt like his own and he had already regained his sense of smell.