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Chimpanzee attack victim gets new face

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Charla Nash smiles for the camera before the incident nearly two years ago.
  • Charla Nash was attacked by a chimpanzee in 2009
  • She underwent a face transplant last month
  • Her brother calls the results "miraculous"

(CNN) -- More than two years after a chimpanzee mauled her, Charla Nash will once again be able to eat solid foods and regain her sense of smell thanks to a full face transplant, doctors at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital said Friday.

"I am happy to report that the team has achieved tremendous success," said Dr. Elof Eriksson, chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery.

Surgeons also transplanted two hands to Nash, but they didn't thrive and were removed.

In February 2009, Sandra Herold had called her friend Nash for help in getting her pet chimpanzee, Travis, back inside her house after he used a key to escape. When Nash arrived, the chimp, who had been featured in TV commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, jumped on her and began biting and mauling her, causing serious injuries to her face, neck and hands.

Police shot Travis to halt the attack and he later died of gunshot wounds.

Doctors say they see Nash as more than an animal attack victim.

"To us, Charla is a courageous, strong person. (She) inspired the team to do everything possible, using our collective expertise, to restore her quality of life," Plastic Surgeon Director Dr. Bohdan Pomahac said.

Nash's face transplant was different than others done before because of the extent of damage to it, the doctors said.

She is the third person at Brigham and Women's Hospital to receive a full face transplant; Dallas Wiens was the first in the United States to have such a surgery in March, also at the hospital.

Nash is the second to receive a double-hand transplant at the same time as a face transplant; the first was performed in France in 2009. That patient died of a heart attack in a later operation.

Nash had lost her nose, upper jaw, most of the soft tissue on her face, and both upper and lower lips. She was also left blind.

The surgery, which was performed last month, involved removing some tissue and attaching skin and underlying muscle, based on vessels and nerves that provide motor and sensory functions, Pomahac said. The entire hard palate and teeth were also transplanted.

The result was "miraculous," said Nash's brother, Steve.

The thing Nash is most looking forward to, her brother said, was visiting their favorite hot dog stand.

As for the double hand transplant, doctors successfully attached the new hands, but a few days later Nash became sick and her blood pressure fell, causing circulation problems to the new limbs. After a few days, doctors saw that the hands were not thriving and removed them.

In the next three months, Nash will regain sensation to her face, and in six to nine months will be able to smile, control her lips and otherwise make facial expressions, Pomahac said.

"All these things will gradually improve," he said.

Nash skipped her child's high school graduation because she was afraid of taking away from the occasion, but thanks to the transplant, can look forward to being present for college graduation, Pomahac said.

The surgery will give her a chance to have a more normal social life, he said.