- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2011

BOSTON (AP) - A Connecticut woman who was mauled and blinded by a berserk chimpanzee has received a new face in the third such operation ever performed in the U.S. and is looking forward to chewing her meals again after months of pureed food.

Charla Nash underwent a full face and double hand transplant late last month, but the hands failed to thrive as she struggled with pneumonia and were removed, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, leader of the 30-member surgical team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said Friday.

Overall, her recovery and future look excellent, Pomahac said. A chest X-ray shows the pneumonia has cleared, although doctors are trying to wean her from a breathing machine.

“She will eventually be able to eat a hamburger, something she said was very important her, having only had pureed food since her injury, and I think we can all relate to that,” Pomahac said.

Nash’s was the third full face transplant in the U.S. Her skin, underlying muscles, blood vessels and nerves were replaced along with her hard palate and teeth.

Over the next several months, the 57-year-old woman will develop more control over facial muscles and more feeling, letting her breathe through her nose and develop her sense of smell. She remains blind.

Her brother Steve Nash later said his sister wants to enjoy hot dogs and a slice of pizza from their favorite pizza parlor in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where they spent their childhood.

This was the hospital’s first hand transplant attempt, though it has reattached hands for other patients for many years.

While the loss of her transplanted hands was disappointing, Pomahac said in an interview with The Associated Press that doctors will likely attempt another double hand transplant with a new donor after waiting at least six months for Nash to heal.

“For a blind patient, I think the hands do provide the contact to the outside world, and ultimately, the road to independence … and that’s why I think she will want to have it done in the future,” he said.

Nash still has an optic nerve, even though the chimp attack destroyed her eyes. Transplanting eyes is “science fiction at this point, but you never know,” Pomahac said.

He said at the news conference that her left arm was replaced at the mid-forearm. Her right hand was replaced at the wrist, except for the thumb, which was all she had left after the February 2009 attack.

The right hand replacement was “technically challenging,” he said, because a partial transplant had never been done.

Several days after the operation, Nash developed pneumonia and suffered a drop in blood pressure, which compromised blood flow to the hands. Doctors eventually had to remove the transplanted hands.

Nash will also be able to go out in public without feeling self-conscious, Pomahac said. She had to skip her only daughter’s high school graduation last spring because she was concerned that she would become the center of attention.

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