Chimp Attack Victim Can Talk, Brothers Say

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
|  Wednesday, Apr 1, 2009  |  Updated 9:10 AM EDT
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Owner of Travis the Chimp Talks About What Happens

NBC/Today Show

Charla Nash, 55, was attacked on Feb. 16 in Stamford. Her brothers said she can speak.

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Police release the frenzied calls for help during chimp attack in Stamford.

Owner of Travis the Chimp Talks About What Happens

Sandra Herold talks about everthing from her critics to her love of the animal that attacked Herold's friend.
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The Connecticut woman nearly killed by a chimpanzee is speaking, asking for her daughter and even responding to fairly complicated commands, they said.

Stephen and Michael Nash told The Associated Press by telephone on Tuesday that they are encouraged by test results for brain damage to their sister Charla.

About two weeks ago, Nash said her first word, "Lisa" — the name of her nurse at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic. The nurse rushed out to the hallway to tell Stephen Nash.

"We gave each other a hug. It makes you cry," he said.

Nash knows that she is in Cleveland, but doctors doubt she will ever recall the attack, her brothers said. Stephen Nash said he told his sister she was injured in an accident.

Nash also doesn't know the extent of her injuries. But Michael Nash said that with her level of sedation reduced, she will probably start asking questions soon about why she is in the hospital — and a trauma expert is there to help her.

She lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the Feb. 16 attack in Stamford, the clinic said more than three weeks ago. Hospital officials said then that she might be blind and brain damaged and that her potential for recovery, if any, was unclear.

But these days, Nash can sit in a chair, listens to country music, and tells her nurses if she is cold, tired or wants to be left alone. She moves her arms and head to help nurses when they change her bandages and may soon be moved out of an isolation room, according to her brothers.

"I'm a lot more optimistic now," Stephen Nash said. "Everything she does is going in the right direction."

Hospital officials would say Tuesday only that Nash was in critical but stable condition — an improvement from just critical condition.

The chimp's owner had asked Nash, her friend and employee, to come to her home the day of the attack to help lure the animal, named Travis, back into her house.

The owner, Sandra Herold, has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her and attacked Nash because she had changed her hairstyle, was driving a different car and was holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get Travis' attention.

The 200-pound chimp, which once starred in television commercials, later was shot and killed by police. They are still deciding whether Herold, of Stamford, will face criminal charges.

Nash's family has sued Herold, seeking $50 million in damages, saying she was negligent and reckless. Herold's attorney, Joe Gerardi, has declined to comment.

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.

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.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first center in the nation to perform a face transplant, but whether Nash would undergo such an operation is unknown, her brothers said.

Her progress has left her family thinking that one day the independent woman who once rode the rodeo circuit could live on her own again.

"I think it's going to be a long, hard recovery, but she is a strong person," Michael Nash said. "I think she'll never be 100 percent. She will adapt and work hard to be independent. Steve and I will both make it possible when she's ready to do that."
 

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