Exclusive interview with chimp attack victim

February 28, 2012 12:56:35 PM PST
Eyewitness News followed the tragedy of a Chimpanzee mauling the face and hands of a Connecticut mother, and then, her face transplant.

Now, Charla Nash has sat down only with reporter Sarah Wallace for a very personal interview, talking about her progress now, her challenges, and hopes for the future.

It is simply not in Charla Nash's being to wallow in the past.

She is singularly focused on moving forward, every day, but she's worried about her future, her medical bills, and long term care.

She blames the State of Connecticut, claiming officials knew that Chimpanzee was dangerous but did nothing until it was too late.

There is no room in Charla Nash's world for self-pity.

Every day is training day for the 58-year-old, working with a team of therapists at a rehabilitation facility outside of Boston.

Even in her room, on her own, she pushes herself.

"Every day you're getting stronger," Wallace said.

"Hopefully," Nash replied.

No matter she is blind; "Charlie" as she likes to be called, has a very clear vision.

"What is your goal for the future?" Wallace asked.

"To be more on my own," Nash said.

"What do you want people to know about you?" Wallace asked.

"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I want to be like everyone else," Nash answered.

For that, she needs hands.

She's now lost them twice.

The first time was in that horrific attack by a friends' chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut three years ago.

The 200 pound primate named Travis also ferociously ripped off the single mother's once beautiful face.

He was later shot and killed by police.

"Why do you think you survived?" Wallace asked.

"I ask myself that all the time. I don't think I could have done it myself. I'm sure it was an angel or the Lord himself who helped me," Nash said.

"Do you ever wish you hadn't survived?" Wallace asked.

"No, I'm glad I'm here," Nash replied.

It's been a long road.

She revealed her pre-transplant face on "Oprah", 9 months after the attack.

Last spring, for the first time ever in the U.S., doctors in Boston gave Nash a transplanted donor face and hands.

They later had to remove the donor hands after she developed a life-threatening circulation problem.

Now, she has a single thumb.

"Here, talking to you I feel like my hands are there, and yet when I go there's nothing to touch with," Nash said, "I can feel like my hands are raw to the bone and they ache."

While Nash feels phantom hands, the growing sensation in her new face is real.

"I feel sensation. I don't feel any pain. Once in a while I get a little shock and I'm like, oh, the nerves are regenerating," Nash said.

"Show me what you can feel around your face," Wallace said.

"I can feel my forehead. I can feel my cheeks on the side. I can feel, that's an eyebrow," Nash described, "I can feel the outside but the center like the nose is still numb. I can feel a lot of the outside of my face. More in the center, I don't. I can't feel the nose in the top left."

"Lips?" Wallace asked.

"My top lip, no, but bottom lip, yes," Nash said.

"And he took your scalp?" Wallace asked.

"Yeah, I had nothing there, and it was right to the bone, and his teeth made the holes," Nash said.

Nash says she remembers nothing of the attack, but she does recall becoming increasingly alarmed by the escalating aggression of the 14-year-old chimp that her longtime friend, Sandra Herrold, kept in her home.

Herrold died in 2010.

"I always thought that Travis was going to hurt someone someday but I never thought it would be me," Nash said.

Authorities were well aware of Travis before he mauled Nash, but did nothing, even after he ran amok in downtown, Stamford.

One state employee wrote in a memo: "It was an accident waiting to happen."

Nash is now suing the State of Connecticut for $150 million.

There is a single claims commissioner who will decide if her lawsuit can go forward.

"He can just say I don't think it should go forward and that's it?" Wallace asked.

"That's it, right," said Ara Chekmayan, the Nash family spokesman, "Forget $150 million. Would you for a billion trade the situation for what she's enduring?"

In her quiet time, Nash visits with family, including her brother, and she's devoted to her daughter, Brianna, who's 20, and away at college.

"It would be nice to look at my daughter again," Nash said.

She's remarkable with that thumb, moves her bed up and down, and loves to listen to books on tape; her current novel is "Great Expectations".

"One day at a time. That's all you can do," Wallace said.

"I'm glad I'm still here. No regrets," Nash said.

Nash is hoping to get the hand transplant within the next year, but she will need long term care and that's why the decision of the Connecticut Claims Commissioner is so critical.

If he rules against her lawsuit from going forward, she would have to appeal to the state legislature.


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