Chimp Attack Victim Says Face Transplant Study a ‘Success' Despite Recent Setback

Charla Nash says she hopes the transplant study can help military service members

The Connecticut woman who underwent a face transplant five years ago after being disfigured by a chimpanzee attack in February 2009 said she's come a long way in her recovery and hopes to one day ride horses again.

Charla Nash lost her nose, lips, eye lids and hands after her employer's chimpanzee, Travis, mauled her in Stamford. After what doctors have called a miraculous recovery, she received the country's first double face and hands transplant at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. Nash's hands failed to thrive, but her face transplant was a success.

However, a "moderate" rejection of an experimental drug treatment sent Nash back to Brigham where she has been taking part in a military-funded experiment to wean her off the anti-rejection drugs she had been taking since the 2011 operation.

"Well this one biopsy said a slight rejection," Nash told Meredith Vieira in an exclusive "Today" show interview Wednesday, saying she was not discouraged by the setback. "It would help all the servicemen and women. The study is not a failure, it's a success. You learn so much from all my testing."

The study is designed to determine whether patients who receive arm, hand, leg or face transplants can safely taper off the medications, which come with serious side effects, including high blood pressure and diabetes, according to "Today."

The vicious mauling also left Nash permanently blind. And though she has personal aide Mondays through Fridays, the "fiercely independent" survivor is steadfast on living alone.

"I've always been independent, and as far as the help, I have just what I need," Nash explained. "You feel like you're almost normal."

Nash said she is grateful for everything, but that she struggles with expenses.

"I wish I had more care, but I am thankful for what I have," Nash told Vieira.

In 2012, she reached a $4 million settlement with the estate of chimp owner Sandra Herold, who died in 2010.

But according to Nash's lawyers, the settlement only covers a small fraction of her medical costs. Nash has sought to sue the state of Connecticut for $150 million, but has been denied permission by the state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance, Jr.

Nash's lawyers contend that the state had the authority and obligation to seize the dangerous animal and hold the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responsible for not taking away the chimpanzee before the attack because it was warned the animal was dangerous. State Attorney General George Jepsen said the state shouldn't be held liable for the mauling.

Travis had previously bitten another woman's hand and tried to drag her into a car in 1996, bit a man's thumb two years later and roamed downtown Stamford for hours in 2003 before being captured after escaping from Herold's home, according to Nash's lawsuit against Herold.

Despite unimaginable challenges, Nash's spirit and determination is unbreakable, she said.

"I am ready to ride horses again," she told Vieira. "And I will."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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