Chimpanzee Attack Victim Charla Nash Back in Hospital to Fight Off Rejection of Face Transplant
'I didn't even know I was having a rejection episode,' says upbeat survivor of 2009 mauling
Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who suffered traumatic facial injuries in a 2009 attack by a 200-pound chimpanzee, is back in the hospital after doctors noticed a “moderate” rejection of her ground-breaking facial transplant.
“The viability of Charla’s face transplant is not in jeopardy,” Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said Wednesday in a statement shared with PEOPLE. “We expect this rejection episode to be resolved within the coming week.”
Nash herself said, “I feel perfect,” in the statement released by the hospital. “I didn’t even know I was having a rejection episode.”
The complication occurred as Nash, of Stamford, Connecticut, was enrolled in an experiment to reduce or eliminate the anti-rejection medications doctors had prescribed since her 2011 surgery.
Transplant patients of all kinds typically are placed on such regimens of immunosuppression drugs, often for life, whenever foreign tissue is introduced to their bodies. But those drugs can carry heavy side effects, such as risks for kidney damage.
This particular study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, which paid for Nash’s surgery, to learn whether the results of scaled-back medications might benefit soldiers whose war injuries also require transplants.
In the attack, which occurred after Nash attempted to help a friend corral her escaped pet, Nash lost her hands as well as her nose, eyelids, and upper and lower lips. Doctors also had to later remove her eyes.
The experiment to suspend her anti-rejection drugs was begun in March 2015.
“Overall, she is doing well,” Dr. Pomahac said of his patient. “Charla is currently experiencing a moderate rejection episode, which face transplants experience on occasion.”
He added: “Per the study design, we have moved Charla from this research protocol due to this rejection episode. She has resumed her regional medication, and will most likely leave the hospital in the next day or two.”
Nash said: “While I am disappointed that I cannot continue in the research project, I am proud of my contributions to date, and am hopeful that it will help those wounded serving our country and others needing transplants in the future.”
“I appreciate everyone’s concern,” she added.
Reporting by NICOLE WEISENSEE EGAN