June 10, 2011 / 2:49 PM / 8 years ago

Woman mauled by chimpanzee gets face transplant

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Connecticut woman mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009 has received a full face transplant, the third surgery of its kind performed in the country, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital said on Friday.

Face transplant recipient Charla Nash is pictured after her injury, in this undated photograph released on June 10, 2011. REUTERS/Brigham and Women's Hospital/Handout

Charla Nash, 57, was hurt after a friend’s 200-pound pet chimpanzee Travis went on a rampage. She lost her hands, lips, nose and eyes, leaving her blind and disfigured after the attack. The animal was eventually shot and killed by police.

“To us, she’s not a woman who was mauled by the chimpanzee,” said 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.”

Nash’s face was rebuilt last month by a medical team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and residents in a challenging surgical procedure was made more complex by a double hand transplant.

Working for more than 20 hours, the team replaced Nash’s nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and nerves.

As part of the surgery, Nash also received teeth and palate from the anonymous donor.

The hospital said the double hand transplant was successful, but the hands did not thrive after complications from pneumonia and were removed.

Nash retained the use of the thumb on her right hand, that was intact after the attack. Doctors said they were optimistic another hand transplant could be attempted if a future donor is identified.

As she recovers, doctors said they expect Nash to regain her sense of smell as well as sensation in her face. Her speech will be clearer immediately. Eventually, she will be able to smile, express her emotions and eat normally, they said.

On a diet of pureed food since the mauling, she is looking forward to a hot dog and pizza from her favorite spots, said her brother, Steve Nash.

Doctors expect Nash to enjoy a more normal social life post-surgery. Prior to the transplant, she decided not to attend her only daughter’s high school graduation fearing she would distract from the students’ day.

Brigham and Women’s, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, successfully performed the two previous full face transplants earlier this year.

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

The world’s first full face transplant was completed in Spain in 2010.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune

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