Tough Road for Chimp Victim Seeking Face, Hand Transplants

Charla Nash, the woman who survived a vicious chimp attack last February, was recently told that she isn't a candidate for a face and hand transplant operation at the renowned Cleveland Clinic, where Nash has been receiving care for the past year.

Nash lost her face, fingers, lips nose and eyes when her friend Sandra Herold's 200-pound chimpanzee Travis attacked her at Herold's Stamford, Conn., home.

When she first arrived in the Stamford Hospital emergency room, doctors were astounded that she survived. Nash has continued to surprise the nation with upbeat interviews months later.

But her future has been pushed into limbo until doctors further develop the field of tissue transplantation, called allotransplantation.

Nash's attorney, Bill Monaco, said the family was told several weeks ago that the double hand and face transplants the family is hoping for will be fraught with difficulties.

"The Cleveland clinic has determined they don't believe they could adequately handle the hand transplant. So a facility that could handle both would need to do it," said Monaco of Feldman, Kramer & Monaco in Hauppauge, N.Y. "They've been great to Charla, but they can't take her all the way that we had hoped."

Monaco said the family is holding out hope for a double transplant rather than choosing either a face or a hand.

VIDEO: Carla Nash After the Chimp Attack

Given Nash's injuries and resulting disabilities, including blindness, it would be a hard decision. If she just had a face transplant and remained blind, she would have a near impossible time negotiating a prosthetic hand.

"It's essential for somebody in her position because she has lost her eyesight. A blind person typically uses their hands for sight," Monaco said.

But without a face transplant, Monaco said Nash will have lifelong difficulty.

"A face transplant would lead to better breathing, better smell, better tastes, better ability to eat -- all of the things we take for granted," he said. "Right now she had trouble just eating."

VIDEO: Karla Nashs Progress After Chimp Attack

Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Angie Kiska said doctors are not doing interviews about the decision or about Charla Nash. However, she said the face transplants are still "experimental" procedures.

"However, due to the complexity of her injuries, the medical team has concluded she is not a candidate for transplantation at this time," the hospital said in a statement.

The Cleveland Clinic was the site of the nation's first human face transplant and the feat has only been accomplished at a handful of sites around the world, including Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Amiens University Hospital in Amiens, France.

Surgeons at the Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., completed the first hand transplants in the nation more than 10 years ago.

"When a patient is blind, they cannot feel or see their transplanted hand," Dr. Warren Breidenbach, of Jewish Hospital, told The Associated Press. "The feeling in the transplanted hand takes years to grow back."

So even if Nash got a hand transplant, it would be unclear how well she could learn to use her hands again.

Other transplant experts say the double transplant was inevitably going to complicate a process that takes years to coordinate even with a single transplant.

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