Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Woman attacked by chimp reveals face on Oprah

A woman who was attacked by a 200-pound chimpanzee revealed her heavily disfigured face on television last night, saying she is blind and has to eat through a straw, but isn't angry.

"I don't even think about it," Charla Nash said on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "And there's no time for that anyways because I need to heal, you know, not look backwards."

Winfrey removed Ms Nash's hat and veil to reveal her face, which was swollen and damaged beyond recognition. She had a large scar near the bottom of her face and a large piece of skin where her nose had been.

The February 16 attack occurred when the animal's owner, Sandra Herold, asked Ms Nash, her friend and employee, to help lure the animal back into her house in Stamford, Connecticut.

The chimpanzee ripped off Ms Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids.

Police shot and killed the animal. Ms Nash has been in hospital since. She remains in stable condition at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Ms Nash said she didn't remember anything from the attack and doesn't want to.

"I want to get healthy," she said. "I don't want to wake up with nightmares."

In a telephone interview last night with The Associated Press, Ms Nash said she repeatedly warned Ms Herold that the primate was dangerous and could hurt someone.

Ms Nash said she saw the chimpanzee throw large objects around his cage, including a desk and 55-gallon plastic drum. She said she saw him flash his teeth and pound the bars of the cage so violently his hands would bleed.

"They had to weld the cage because he was starting to break out from hitting it so much," Ms Nash said.

Another time Ms Herold told workers at her house they had to leave because Travis was misbehaving, Ms Nash said.

Ms Nash said she was afraid of Travis, who was typically locked in his cage when she saw him. Ms Nash said she told Ms Herold eight or 10 times he was dangerous.

"I always told her you have to get rid of him, he's going to hurt somebody someday. He's too dangerous," Ms Nash said. "You can't control him, and he's going to hurt somebody."

Ms Nash, who occasionally fed Travis oatmeal in his cage, said she told Ms Herold that Travis did not have enough room to run around and she should give him up.

"Sandy would say, 'I know, but it's hard,"' explaining that she believed if she gave him up, he would not get the same level of care she provided.

Ms Herold had black and blue marks from Travis, but she would say they were from playing around with him, Ms Nash said.

Asked about Ms Herold, Ms Nash said, "I feel like I've been thrown under a bus" since the attack happened and legal proceedings began.

Ms Herold's attorney, Robert Golger, provided AP with a statement, saying Ms Herold wishes Ms Nash the best.

"All of Sandy's hopes and prayers are with Charla and her daughter in this challenging time," the statement read. "Sandy hopes and prays for a full and speedy recovery."

Ms Nash's family has filed a £30 million lawsuit against Ms Herold, saying she was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control "a wild animal with violent propensities."

Ms Herold's attorney has argued the attack was work-related and the case should be treated as a workers' compensation claim.

Ms Nash denied she was Ms Herold's employee.

Ms Nash's family filed notice with Connecticut's Office of Claims Commissioner this month, asking for permission to sue the state for £100 million, saying officials failed to prevent the attack. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has said his office is reviewing the claim.

Ms Herold owned the 14-year-old chimp nearly all its life. When he was younger, Travis starred in TV commercials and took part in a television pilot.

A state biologist had warned Connecticut officials that the chimp could hurt someone. The animal had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in its system, according to toxicology tests, but investigators don't know whether the drug played a role in the attack.

Ms Nash told Winfrey she is not in pain but can't breathe through her nose and has to eat through a straw. She said she doesn't touch her face often.

"I know that I have my forehead," Ms Nash said. "It feels like just patches of tape or gauze or covering, covering my face."

It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago, when an eye doctor told Ms Nash she no longer had eyes, that she realised she would never see again, she said. Ms Nash said she doesn't ask many questions about her injuries.

"It's like less for me to worry about if I don't know," she said.

Ms Nash said the animal had once ripped out a hunk of her hair and grabbed her arm a few times.

"You could feel the strength he had," she told AP.

Ms Nash said she wants to warn people about potential dangers posed by exotic animals.

"I'd like to put across to people's minds that these exotic animals are very dangerous and they shouldn't be around," Ms Nash said on Winfrey's show. "There's a place for them that is not in residential areas."

Even if she isn't feeling well, Ms Nash said she pushes herself to go for a walk during the day. She wears a veil so she doesn't scare people and to avoid insults.

"I'm the same person I've always been," she said. "I just look different."

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