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Victim Of Chimpanzee Attack Receives Face Transplant

June 12, 2011

A Connecticut woman who was mauled more than two years ago has received a new face, the third full face transplant to be performed in the United States.

Charla Nash, 57, was attacked by a friend’s 200-pound chimpanzee in February 2009. Travis the chimpanzee went berserk and ripped off Nash’s hands, nose, lips and eyelids before police shot and killed it.

The mauling left Nash blind and she has only been able to take in pureed food through the small opening that was left of what used to be her mouth.

“To us, she’s not a woman who was mauled by the chimpanzee,” says Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who led the surgical team. “To us, Charla is a courageous, strong person who inspired the team to do everything possible using our collective expertise to restore her quality of life.”

Dr. Pomahac led a 30-member surgical team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that gave Nash a full face as well as a double hand transplant late last month. For more than 20 hours, the team replaced Nash’s nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and nerves, according to Reuters.

Unfortunately, the double hand transplant did not thrive.

“The hand transplant turned out to be very challenging,” Pomahac says. “A few days post operatively Charla developed pneumonia and she 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.”

However, doctors are optimistic about the possibility of another hand transplant in the future once another donor is identified.

“For a blind patient, I think the hands do provide the contact to the outside world, and ultimately the road to independence”¦ and that’s why I think she will want to have it done in the future,” Pomahac says.

Worldwide, about a dozen face transplants have been completed ““ in the U.S., France, Spain and China. Brigham and Women’s Hospital have performed two previous full-face transplants in the U.S.

Boston hospital has been given a grant for five face transplants by the U.S. military in hopes that the operations can eventually benefit soldiers who are disfigured in battle.

Dallas Wiens was the first full face transplant recipient in the United States. The 26-year-old headed home to Texas last month to be with his young daughter. He is still continuing facial muscle rehabilitation and resuming his normal life, reports Reuters.

As for Nash, it would be several more months before any images of her new face will be released. She did not attend a hospital news conference Friday.

Doctors say that she would not resemble the donor because the muscles and tissue would form to her own bone structure as she heals. She will also gain more control of her facial muscles and more feeling, allowing her to breathe through her nose and develop her sense of smell. However, she will still remain blind.

Nash will be able to feel less self-conscious in public, Pomahac says. Last spring, she had to skip her daughter’s high school graduation because she didn’t want to become the center of attention.

“We know it broke her heart,” says Pomahac. “I think her new face will allow Charla to be present when Briana graduates from college in a few short years.”

Nash’s brother Steve says that his sister is looking forward to enjoying hot dogs and a slice of pizza from their favorite pizza place in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where grew up. He called the operation “miraculous.”

“We are confident Charla will gain her goal to regain her health and independence in the future,” he says.

Her sister-in-law Kate says, Charla hated to have her picture taken. Any family gathering, she’d disappear.

She doesn’t want to be the center of attention ever, you know. That’s why she wants this. She’s so happy about getting a face, so people won’t say, “ËœLook at that lady with the veil.”

Pomahac says that Nash’s face transplant “will certainly help her tremendously to feel human again.”

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