Woman Attacked by Chimp Transferred to Site of First U.S. Face Transplant

Published February 20, 2009

| FoxNews.com

A Connecticut woman critically injured this week by a rampaging chimpanzee has been transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, where two months ago, surgeons performed the nation's first almost full face transplant.

"I think that's why they transferred her there," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist and FOX News contributor.

"It's one of the top places in this country to have facial reconstruction."

Hospital spokeswoman Eileen Shiel says 55-year-old Charla Nash is being treated for trauma to her face and lower extremities — but Siegel said it's still early to tell if she will need a face transplant.

"My vote would probably be that she won't need an actual transplant," Siegel said on FOX News Channel Friday morning.

"Reports say they preserved part of her nose and facial structure, so that gives them an anchor — gives them something to build on. So, if they were able to use her own tissue, and there's enough of it, they might be able to get away without doing a transplant," he said.

On Thursday, two of the first medical workers to treat Nash after she was mauled by the 200-pound chimp described her nightmarish injuries.

"It was amazing to us she had these type of injuries and they were survivable," Bill Ackley told the Associated Press.

Medical workers found Nash, completely unrecognizable, face down Monday in friend Sandra Herold's driveway. The first police officers on the scene couldn't tell if the body was male or female, and warned dispatchers that the victim's face was ripped away.

Nash's hands were also horribly disfigured, but still attached to her wrists.

"I would liken it to a machine-type accident," Ackley said. "She had some crushing injuries to her hands and some tearing injuries to her hands."

Her head injuries "involved her entire face and scalp," Ackley said.

Nash's eyes were injured, but Ackley would not say how extensively. Her hair had been ripped out.

"She just had disfiguring injuries," he said. "Her nose was still there. There was some disfigurement. She did have injuries to her mouth that caused quite a bit of bleeding. It was very difficult to determine where everything was because of the blood."

Police don't know what triggered the chimp, named Travis, to attack Nash. He was later shot and killed by police.

Earlier this month, the nation's first almost full face transplant recipient was released from the Cleveland Clinic after undergoing the historic operation in early December.

PHOTOS: Journey to a New Face.

The woman, whose identity has not been revealed, suffered a traumatic injury several years ago. It left the woman with no nose, palate, or way to eat or breathe normally. In a 22-hour procedure, 80 percent of her face was replaced with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from another woman who had just died.

"It's no small issue because there's a lot of techniques involved using tissue, using graft, using pieces of bone, muscle and nerve," Siegel said. "I mean, it's incredible the operations they do."

Although the nation's first almost full face transplant seems to be a success, Siegel said the procedure is not a first choice.

"They have to find the right donor, it as to be the right fit, and then of course the person ends up needing immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their life. So, it's something to be avoided."

Doctors at Stamford Hospital said Wednesday Nash had shown slight improvement after hours of surgery.

"I think it's too soon to say what exactly is going to be happening," Siegel said.

"But, one thing is for sure, she is going to need extensive work."

The world's first face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog. Isabelle Dinoire received a new nose, chin and lips from a brain-dead donor. Apart from some rejection episodes, she has done well.

Two others have received partial face transplants since then — a Chinese farmer attacked by a bear and a European man disfigured by a genetic condition.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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