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Face Transplant For Woman Attacked by Chimp?

Posted by tothewire on February 21, 2009

Woman Attacked By Chimp Transferred To Cleveland Clinic


STAMFORD — – A Connecticut woman whose face was mauled this week by a rampaging chimpanzee has been transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, which two months ago performed the nation’s first successful facial transplant.

Charla Nash, 55, of Stamford, was transferred from Stamford Hospital to the Cleveland facility on Thursday, three days after she was mauled by a 200-pound chimp owned by her friend, Sandra Herold. Spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said that Nash was being seen by a head and neck surgeon and probably would be treated through a team approach involving many specialists.

“I don’t know at this point” if a transplant will be considered, Sheil said. “Priority one is to stabilize her.”

As authorities continue to look into the attack, details of the relationship between Herold and her 14-year-old chimp, Travis, began to emerge.

She fed him the finest food, including lobster, steak and ice cream. They took baths together, cuddled in the bed they shared and enjoyed wine from long-stemmed glasses. Travis brushed Herold’s hair each night and pined for her when she was away.

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If she left the house alone, Travis would give her a kiss.

“If I left with someone, Travis would get upset,” Herold said.

Experts say the unusually human relationship would have been confusing for any animal. It might have also played a role in Travis’ savage attack Monday on Nash.

The attack left Nash with massive injuries to her hands and face, requiring four teams of surgeons to work more than seven hours Monday to stabilize her. She left Connecticut in critical condition, although she had improved slightly since her operation, officials said.

Nash was probably transferred to Cleveland because of the clinic’s expertise in facial reconstruction — not because doctors are considering a transplant right away, a leading surgeon said.

“This is a difficult time for the patient and she will need to adjust to it first. All the other options should be discussed first” before something as radical and risky as a transplant is considered, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a reconstructive surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Brigham also has approved plans to offer face transplants, and Pomahac said that he has tried to contact doctors involved in Nash’s care but has not reached any yet.

“Often things sort of sound worse than they really are,” he said. If any of Nash’s face was salvaged, “a lot of the tissues can be returned to where they came from,” or repaired with traditional skin grafts or flaps.

In December, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic completed the nation’s first facial transplant, of an unidentified woman who suffered a traumatic injury several years ago. The injury left her with no nose, palate, or way to eat or breathe normally.

In a 22-hour procedure, 80 percent of the woman’s face was replaced with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from a woman who had just died.

It was the fourth partial face transplant in the world, although the others were not as extensive. Nor were any done as emergency operations, said Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, chief of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It would be unusual” to perform one so soon for Nash, he said.

To consider it, doctors must make sure that she is medically stable, that alternatives have been carefully considered, and that she truly had given informed consent, because a transplant requires taking anti-rejection drugs for life, Lee said.

That could conceivably be done in a matter of weeks, but “to find a suitable donor with matching skin color and size and other features, that’s a practical limitation,” he said.

Cleveland doctors have said that it took several months to find a suitable donor for the face transplant that Dr. Maria Siemionow performed in December. Siemionow is out of the country at a conference.

Travis was shot and killed Monday by police. Owner Sandra Herold has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her when he attacked. Police have not decided if they will file charges.

| Associated Press


2 Responses to “Face Transplant For Woman Attacked by Chimp?”

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