Chimp attack victim Charla Nash reveals her new face three months after landmark full face transplant
Ms Nash, who was left permanently blind, and lost her nose, eyes and lips in the attack, received a ground-breaking face transplant in May.
Speaking of her incredible recovery in an interview for the Today show, she said that for the first time since the horrific ordeal she can smell, eat solid food and feel sensation on her face. And remarkably, her new features are beginning to show.
'I’m beginning to feel my jaw and chin. And I can move my mouth and smile. I still feel weak. But little by little I’m getting stronger,' she said off air. Her first meal after the surgery, she said, was eggs and cream cheese.
In May, a team of more than 30 surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, led by Dr Bohdan Pomanhac, painstakingly rebuilt her face. They kept the date secret to protect Ms Nash's privacy.They took the donor's skin, underlying muscle, nerves and upper palate and transplanted the whole face on to Ms Nash's skull.
They also gave the 57-year-old a double hand transplant during the greulling 20-hour operation. However these later had to be removed after Ms Nash developed severe complications, including kidney failure and pneumonia, which caused low circulation in the new hands.
Her new face, however, was an incredible success and each day as the swelling reduces, the transplant moulds more to her underlying bone structure.
Since Ms Nash was too weak to give an interview to the Today show team, her daughter and brother appeared on the show after the taped hospital visit was aired to express their relief.
Her daughter, Brianna, 17, smiled during a studio interview today as they discussed her mother's incredible progress.
'New hope has been sparked. It's just so nice to see her get at it again. For her to make an expression... it's just nice that her body can respond to what she feels,' Brianna said.
'I think she is impatient for recovery. Her speech is getting much better and she’s been getting up and starting to eat,' she continued.
Today, Ms Nash is in intensive therapy. Doctors are not sure when she will have full function in her face.
Ms Nash was blinded in the attack in February 2009, when her friend's 200lb chimp, Travis, went berzerk and ripped off her nose, lips, eyelids and hands.
The lead surgeon, Dr Bodan Pomahac, told the Today show before the operation: 'Transplanting a face and hands together is basically an unparalleled quest.
'The complexity, logistically and surgically, I think makes it the most challenging thing we can do these days.'
John Orr, a spokesman for the Nash family, has said the donor's identity has been kept secret, but was a 'fairly consistent match'.
The donor can be as much as 20 years younger or up to ten years older than the recipient and must have the same blood type and similar skin colour and texture.
Dr Pomahac said: 'From what we know, she will not resemble the donor. She will be looking like someone a little different than she was before the accident, but different than the donor.'
Before the operation, Ms Nash said she was looking forward to being able to live at home rather than in a facility.
She said: 'I want be able to eat on my own. I want to be able to hold a cheeseburger or a hot dog in my hand and put it in my own mouth.'
Ms Nash has hidden her face under a veil for the past two years. She bravely revealed her disfigured features in an interview with Oprah Winfrey just a few months after the attack.
At the time she said: 'I wear (the veil) so I don't scare people. Sometimes other people might insult you, so I figure maybe it's easier if I just walk around covered up.'
The chimp was later shot by police. At the time its owner, Sandra Herold, speculated the pet was trying to protect her and didn't recognise Ms Nash because she had changed her hairstyle.
Ms Herold died of an aneurysm last year. Ms Nash's family are suing her estate for $50million and wants to sue the state for $150million, saying officials failed to prevent the attack.
The double transplant was the first of its kind in the U.S., and has only been performed once before in the world, in France.
It was paid for by the Department of Defense, through a contract it gave Brigham and Women's Hospital in 2009 to cover the cost of face transplants for veterans and some civilians, hospital officials said.
Two other face transplants have been performed at the hospital this year.
In March, Dallas Wiens became the first person in America to undergo the surgery, after his features were all but burned away when he hit a power line while painting a church.
Just a month later Mitch Hunter, 30, also underwent the surgery. His face was severely disfigured and burned during a car accident that toppled high-voltage electrical wires.