NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Connecticut woman mauled and blinded by a chimpanzee is undergoing a preliminary evaluation to determine if she is a potential candidate for a face and hand transplant at a Harvard-affliated hospital.
Brigham and Women's Hospital issued a statement Monday saying Charla Nash will be at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospital for a couple of days for the evaluation. A decision is not expected for months.
"I'm cautiously optimistic right now," plastic surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who led the team that performed the nation's second face transplant last year, told The Associated Press. "It is certainly very, very challenging, but that's what we like."
Nash moved last week from the Cleveland Clinic to a Boston-area assisted-living center, where she plans to continue rehabilitation and hopes for more reconstructive surgery. The family is trying to keep her location private.
The 200-pound pet chimpanzee went berserk in February 2009 after its owner asked Nash to help lure it back into her house in Stamford. The animal ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids.
The Cleveland Clinic, which in 2008 performed the nation's first face transplant but has not done hand transplants, said in January that Nash would not be a candidate for a face and hand transplant, citing the complexity of her injuries.
Pomahac said he was not familiar with details of that decision. He said Brigam and Women's Hospital has not done hand transplants, but has reattached arms and hands.
The face transplant done last year took 17 hours, Pomahac said. He said the face and hand transplant could be done simultaneously, which would be easier for the patient, or separately, depending on the availability of matches for the hands and face by donors.
The evaluation will include an assessment of Nash's mental health to make sure she is up to the procedure, Pomahac said. He noted she has been through a trauma and her rehabilitation would be challenging because of her blindness.
"She has been through a lot," Pomahac said.
A face transplant would help Nash smell, breath and eat, while a hand transplant would help her be more independent, family attorney Bill Monaco has said. Nash has great difficulty eating and mostly uses a straw, he said.
Nash was brought to the Cleveland Clinic soon after the attack. She revealed her heavily disfigured face in November on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Nash's family is suing the chimpanzee's owner, Sandra Herold, for $50 million and wants to sue the state for $150 million, saying state officials failed to prevent the attack.
The chimp, named Travis, was shot and killed by police, and tests showed he had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system. The chimp had also escaped in 2003 from his owner's car and led police on a chase for hours in downtown Stamford. No one was injured.