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Chimp attack victim is improving in Cleveland hospital

April 8, 2009 |  9:53 pm

Mike Nash, the brother of chimp attack victim Charla Nash, says he is encouraged by her progress Charla Nash, who suffered horrific injuries in a February chimpanzee attack in Stamford, Conn., is still confined to a Cleveland hospital and will probably require numerous surgeries over the next two years.  But her brothers, Stephen and Michael Nash, say her condition has improved to the point where she can speak, sit upright in a chair and respond to commands.

About three weeks ago, Nash spoke her first word since the attack ("Lisa," the name of her nurse).  "We gave each other a hug. It makes you cry," Stephen Nash told the Associated Press of the brothers' reaction to the news. 

The improvements in Nash's condition are heartening -- doctors originally feared she'd suffer permanent brain damage and blindness due to the severity of the injuries she sustained during the brutal attack by a chimp named Travis. 

The lawsuit filed by her family against Travis' owner, Sandra Herold, lists "traumatic facial injury [including loss of her nose, upper and lower lips, eyelids and the bony structures in her mid-face]." The $50-million lawsuit accuses Herold of negligence in failing to take precautions that would have prevented the attack.  "Any future settlement or court verdict would take into consideration the pain associated with the catastrophic, life-altering nature of Charla's injuries and her loss of ability to work," reads a statement on the Charla Nash Trust website, which was set up after the attack to collect financial contributions toward her medical care.

Doctors doubt Nash will remember the attack; she does know that she's in Cleveland but has been told that she was the victim of an accident.  Michael Nash says that, with her level of sedation reduced, she'll probably start asking questions soon; a trauma expert will be there when she does.

Of late, Nash has been able to help her nurses by moving her arms and head as they change her bandages; she can also converse with them, telling them if she is cold or tired.  From the Associated Press:

Nash, aided by an artificial voice box, has asked for her 17-year-old daughter, Brianna, the brothers said.

"I started smiling from ear to ear," Michael Nash said.

Charla Nash, who is 55 and grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has responded to simple commands like wiggling her toes, the brothers said. A doctor asked her to step on the gas and she pushed her right foot down — showing an understanding of how a car works.

That response has her brothers hopeful about the extent of any brain damage, though they acknowledged brain injuries are difficult to predict.

"They don't think it's anything severe," Michael Nash said. "It doesn't mean she won't have a personality change or headaches off and on the rest of her life."

Nash told doctors she can see light, her brothers said. They are holding out hope that she might eventually regain sight in one eye.

Michael Nash said he doesn't expect his sister to ever "be 100 percent," but hopes she can regain her independence.  It's unclear whether she'll eventually be a candidate for the facial transplant surgery that the Cleveland Clinic pioneered in the United States.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Travis the chimp killed by police after attacking woman
House votes to approve Captive Primate Safety Act after chimp attack
Primatologist Jane Goodall speaks out about chimp attack
Connecticut biologist raised concerns about Travis the chimp months before his attack

Photo: Mike Nash attends a probate hearing in Stamford, Conn., where Probate Judge Gerald M. Fox Jr. appointed him temporary conservator to Charla, his twin sister.  Credit: Douglas Healey / Associated Press

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