HARTFORD, Conn. – The new face of a Connecticut woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee two years ago was revealed for the first time Thursday in photos showing a startling transformation.
The pictures of Charla Nash were first shown on NBC's "Today" show and in Hearst Connecticut Newspapers on Thursday morning. They were later released by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where she had face transplant surgery in May.
Nash, 57, didn't appear on "Today" because relatives said she was too weak to do an interview. In a statement released by the hospital, Nash thanked all the doctors, nurses and other medical experts who helped her over the past two years.
"I will now be able to do things I once took for granted," Nash said in the statement. "I will be able to smell. I will be able to eat normally. I will no longer be disfigured. I will have lips and will speak clearly once again. I will be able to kiss and hug loved ones. I am tremendously grateful to the donor and her family."
The show aired footage of Nash in a hospital bed, nodding to visitors, her face smooth and features appearing nearly normal.
"Today" also reported that Nash was able to eat eggs with cream cheese after the transplant — the first solid food she's had since the attack.
Nash, who's now living in a Boston-area nursing home, was attacked in February 2009 by a neighbor's 200-pound pet chimpanzee, which went berserk after its owner asked Nash to help lure it back into her house in Stamford, Conn. The animal, named Travis, ripped off Nash's nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by police.
Nash was left with no eyes and only a small opening where her mouth once was. She could only eat pureed food, and she was barely understandable when she talked.
In late May, she underwent a full face and double hand transplant in Boston. She received skin, underlying muscles, blood vessels, nerves, a hard palate and teeth from a dead person who hasn't been named. It was the third full face transplant in the U.S.
But doctors later had to remove the hands because of complications that developed when Nash caught pneumonia. Nash said she's hoping to attempt another double hand transplant one day.
Asked by "Today" what she would say to the donor's family, Nash's daughter, Brianna, said she'd tell them how grateful she is.
"What they've done for us is just so amazing," she said. "This has really given my mom the hope to move forward, a chance at a life again."
Nash's family is suing the estate of the chimpanzee's owner, Sandra Herold, for $50 million and wants to sue the state for $150 million, claiming officials failed to prevent the attack. Herold died last year of an aneurysm.
Nash's brother, Steve Nash, told The Associated Press that his sister has maintained a positive outlook since the mauling, and the family hopes she can get the double hand transplant in about six months. She also has only a top row of teeth and doctors are planning to install a lower row soon, he said.
"It's brought my sister to a better quality of life. It makes you feel good, and we're very thankful," Steve Nash said about the face transplant. "She's preparing the best she can to be a blind person."
NBC's "Today" show: http://on.today.com/pdWJSe
Hearst Newspapers: http://www.hearst.com/newspapers