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Chimp attack victim flown to Cleveland Clinic, reconstructive surgery specialist

Charla Nash, the woman who was badly disfigured when she was attacked by her friend’s pet chimp earlier this week, has been transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, which specializes in reconstructive surgery.

Nash, 55, was flown there yesterday after four teams of surgeons at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut stabilized her following Monday’s attack, the Associated Press reports. Officials at the Cleveland Clinic aren’t saying what the next step is in her care, other than that she’s being evaluated by a head and neck surgeon.

Paramedics who treated Nash described a gruesome set of injuries, telling the AP that the 200-pound pet chimp, Travis, badly wounded her eyes, ripped out her hair and left her mouth bleeding. She still had her nose, they said, but her hands had machine-like, “crushing” and “tearing” wounds. (Read more about what may have set off the pet chimp, Travis, in our Ask the Experts column on why chimps attack humans.)

The Cleveland Clinic performed the country’s first face transplant, but it’s unlikely that doctors would turn to one immediately, experts told the newswire. Eileen Sheil, a spokesperson for the hospital, told the AP she didn’t know if a face transplant was on the roster of possible treatment. Transplants require patients to take anti-rejection drugs for life and adjust psychologically to a new face. Doctors would also have to find a suitable donor, whose race, blood and tissue types match the patient's.

"This is a difficult time for the patient, and she will need to adjust to it first,” Bohdan Pomahac, a reconstructive surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the newswire. “All the other options should be discussed first." 

Only four people are known to have received face transplants. One of them, Li Guoxing, whose transplant was done in 2006 in China, died last year after taking herbal medicines instead of the anti-rejection drugs he’d been prescribed. The woman who received the transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in December hasn’t been identified, but she left the hospital earlier this month, able to eat, drink, smell and even wink.

Image of chimpanzee/Thomas Lersch via Wikimedia Commons

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