Oprah Winfrey Interviews Chimp Attack Victim; Woman Unveils Disfigured Face

Charla Nash says she wears a veil so as not to frighten anyone.

November 11, 2009, 10:58 AM

Nov. 12, 2009— -- The woman whose face was disfigured after she was attacked by her friend's pet chimpanzee told Oprah Winfrey that she tries not to remember the incident.

"I don't want to remember because I couldn't imagine what it was like. ... I don't want to wake up with nightmares," Charla Nash said of the Feb. 16 attack by Travis, the 200-pound chimp owned by her friend and employer, Sandra Herold.

Herold had called Nash to her Stamford, Conn., home that morning to help get Travis back in his cage.

Nash, who turned 56 Tuesday, also told Winfrey on the show that aired Wednesday that she hoped her story would serve as a warning to others.

"These exotic animals are very dangerous and they shouldn't be around," she said in the interview during which she removed a dark veil and revealed that her face was missing eyes, her nose and lips. "There's a place for them that is not in residential areas."

Nash, who wakes up every day in a hospital room at the Cleveland clinic where doctors change her bandages daily, told Winfrey she rarely touches her face to avoid knowing the full extent of her injuries.

"I don't ask a whole lot about my injuries. I know that I have my forehead," she said.

Nash underwent several surgeries. Doctors used part of her leg to construct a new nose. They also rebuilt her tongue and cut a small hole in her face so she can eat.

They also removed her eyes.

Now, Nash must drink her meals with a straw though a small hole where her mouth used to be. She said she longs for the day when she might be able to eat "a hot dog or piece of pizza."

CLICK HERE to see Charla Nash's uncovered face.

Despite her injuries, Nash seemed remarkably upbeat. She said she has no pain, was not angry and was ready to move on with her life rather than dwell on that day.

"I'm the same person I've always been," she said. "I just look different. There are things that happen in life you can't change.

"I don't think about it [the attack]. There's no time for that because I need to heal, you know, not look backwards."

Harrowing 911 Call of Chimp Attack

Paramedics responding to a 911 call after the attack said they found pieces of Nash's fingers strewn on the floor and her hands looked as though they had been through a meat grinder.

"The monkey had ripped off her entire upper jaw, had ripped off her nose, which was hanging by a thread," said Dr.Kevin Miller, who treated Nash at the emergency room. "We found extensive dirt, chimp fur, and chimp teeth implanted in her bone."

Nash is missing both hands but had a thumb surgically replaced on her left hand.

"I'm not a candidate for a hands transplant because I have no eyesight," she said. "I hope somewhere along the way to get a face transplant and get a hand transplant at the same time."

On the 911 recordings, Herold can be heard screaming that the ape had killed her friend and was "eating her."

"The chimp killed my friend," a sobbing Herold said on the tapes. "Send the police with a gun; with a gun."

The dispatcher later asked, "Who's killing your friend?"

"My chimpanzee," she said, crying. "He ripped her apart. Shoot him, shoot him."

Nash goes for daily walks around the hospital and relishes the occasional visits she shares with her 17-year-old daughter, Brianna.

"I'm sorry I can't spend more time with my daughter," Nash said. "I know she misses me. I miss her too."

Among the moments she relishes is her daughter crawling in bed with her, and they hold each other. Among her few regrets is the inability to help her daughter pick out a prom dress.

"Her prom is coming up, and I can't pick out a gown, so I really hope she picks out something appropriate to wear. I hope she has a good time there," Nash said.

When outside her hospital room, she wears a hat and veil, usually made from a handkerchief attached to the brim of a straw hat.

Nash said she wears the veil "so I don't scare people. And sometimes other people might insult you."

Hopes to Be Independent

She said she hopes to one day be out of the hospital and more independent.

"Before, I was always really independent," she said. "I wanted to be alone. I want to be independent, but I don't want to be alone anymore."

Nash has filed a civil suit against Herold, seeking $50 million in damages for pain and suffering.

The chimp's owner claims that Nash was her employee at the time of the attack and is entitled to file only a workmen's compensation claim, which would greatly limit the amount of money she could receive.

Nash told Winfrey that taking care of the ape was not part of her job, and she was frightened to even be around the animal.

"I do remember going to feed him a couple of times," she said. "He was big and scary. He was huge."

Travis, she said, was Herold's pet and not part of Desire Me Motors, the towing company Herold ran out of her home.

"It was her pet that she wanted for a companion. ... If she had to rush out or couldn't come home, I fed him," Nash said.

Nash said the chimp was usually kept in a cage, and when it had been allowed outside as a baby, years earlier, he had ripped the hair from her scalp, causing her to tear up and Herold to laugh at the incident.

The 15-year-old chimp, killed by cops, had starred in an Old Navy television commercial advertising cargo shorts. He reportedly enjoyed surfing the Internet and could change the channels on the television using a remote control.

The chimpanzee was sometimes taken out of his room-size cage to eat meals sitting at the dinner table with Herold, and occasionally drank wine from a wineglass.

On the day of the attack, Travis had eaten a meal of fish and chips and Carvel ice cream. He became agitated because he wasn't allowed to go for a car ride.

Herold had said she gave the chimp the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, but later retracted that statement.

Even though Travis had lived with Herold for 14 years, and she had called the pet her son, she put her friend first.

"I stabbed him … and he looked up at me like, 'Why'd you do that, mom?'" Herold said. "I touched him, and I told him I was sorry."

Herold's attorney released a statement saying, "All of Sandy's hopes and prayers are with Charla and her daughter in this challenging time."

Police at the time of the attack speculated that a previous bout with Lyme disease may have accounted for the animal's reported mood swings.

ABC News' Russell Goldman contributed to this story.

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