A woman will spend the rest of her life in a nursing home learning to smile again after her friend’s chimpanzee rips her face and hands.
Charla Nash tried to help friend Sandra Herold bring Travis back the monkey after he ran away when he lashed out in a vicious and unprovoked attack.
Travis was adopted by Sandra and her husband Jerome when he was just three days old, and soon became part of their Connecticut family.
He became a well-known local character and accompanied the couple to work or when shopping, to befriend many of the neighbors.
Well-socialized throughout his life, Travis behaved well with people and had many skills, including dressing herself, feeding the family’s horses, and opening closed doors with a key.
He liked to go behind the computer to look at photos and videos and even learned to drive.
Jerome died of cancer in 2004, and the couple’s only daughter died some time later in a car accident. After the double tragedy, Travis became a surrogate child for Sandra in her grief and slept in her bed every night.
“Until you eat with a chimpanzee and you wash with a chimpanzee, you don’t know a chimpanzee,” she once said.
But over time, it became clear that she didn’t fully know Travis, as his behavior became troubling.
In 2003, he escaped from the family car while it was stuck in traffic, hunting for a man who threw something through the window. It took the police hours to get him back home and prompted Connecticut to ban the possession of primates weighing over 22 kg.
Travis was allowed to stay with Sandra because the authorities did not consider him a threat, but in 2009 they were proven wrong.
Charla, 55, was visiting Sandra when Travis stole car keys and ran out of the house. She went out to help her friend find the mischievous chimpanzee she had known for years.
But when Travis saw Charla holding a Tickle Me Elmo, one of his favorite toys, he bit and attacked her. It is speculated that he did not recognize Charla with her new haircut, and also that his Lyme disease drug affected his behavior.
Sandra watched in horror as her “baby” attacked her friend and tried to intervene, hit Travis with a shovel and even stabbed him.
“Doing something like that – sticking a knife into him – was like putting one inside myself,” she said later.
Realizing she was unable to help, she called the emergency services. As soon as the police arrived, Travis walked to the police car and tried to enter. He smashed a mirror before opening the driver’s door.
An officer shot the chimpanzee several times, and Travis was later found dead just outside his cage. He was 13 years old and weighed 91 kg. An autopsy was negative for rabies, but indicated that Travis had received Xanax earlier in the day.
Charla was operated on urgently and it became clear that she had suffered really horrific injuries. Travis had ripped off her hands, nose, and lips, ripped out her eyes, and broke the bones in the center of her face.
Her seven-hour operation to save her life was so traumatic that hospital staff were later offered counseling.
Two years later, she underwent a hand and face transplant, but unfortunately her new hands had to be removed when she got infections.
Today she lives in a nursing home where she will spend the rest of her life doing facial exercises in the hope that one day she will be able to smile with her new face again.
In interviews, including one with Oprah Winfrey, Charla said that she has lost all independence and that the other nursing home residents avoid her because of her terrifying appearance.
“It is very difficult to live. Not even – half alive. Sometimes you want to cry, you want to leave, you want some kind of house. I don’t know what my future is, that’s the scary part. “
Sandra died in 2010, aged 72, of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Her lawyer said at the time, “In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times, could no longer record.”