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Published: Friday, 2/20/2009

Cleveland Clinic admits woman mauled by chimp

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

CLEVELAND - The Connecticut woman attacked by a friend's pet chimpanzee was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic yesterday with severe injuries to her face and extremities.

The clinic's critical-care jet service picked Charla Nash, 55, up in Connecticut and flew her to Ohio, clinic spokesman Eileen Sheil said.

Speculation is rampant that the woman came here to be evaluated for a face transplant. The clinic in December became the first U.S. hospital to perform a face transplant, on an unidentified woman disfigured by traumatic injury.

Ms. Sheil said she could not comment on whether Ms. Nash will be a candidate for the operation.

Ms. Nash was mauled Monday by a 200-pound chimp named Travis while visiting a friend who owned the animal.

Bill Ackley, one of the emergency medical workers who was at the scene of the attack, said he and his partner couldn't believe the damage done by the chimpanzee.

Medical workers found her face down in friend Sandra Herold's driveway, completely unrecognizable.

The first police officers on the scene couldn't tell if the body was male or female, and warned dispatchers that the victim's face was ripped away.

The 14-year-old chimpanzee already had been shot by police but still was roaming nearby, temporarily out of sight.

Mr. Ackley, a captain with Stamford's emergency medical services, and medic Matt Groves were among the first to tend to Ms. Nash, while police formed a perimeter around them with their guns drawn in case the chimp came back.

Ms. Nash's hands were horribly disfigured, though they were still attached to her wrists, Mr. Ackley said. "I would liken it to a machine-type accident," he said.

The chimp did not return. Police followed a trail of blood and found the chimp dead in Ms. Herold's home.

Police don't know why the chimp attacked. Ms. Herold has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her from her best friend Ms. Nash, who arrived at the house with a different hairstyle, a different car, and holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get the chimp's attention.

Ms. Herold was known to buckle Travis the chimp in her car for rides and dress him in baseball shirts. She gave him the finest food, and wine in long-stemmed glasses. They took baths together and cuddled in the bed they shared. Travis brushed the widow's hair each night.

Experts say the unusually human relationship would have been confusing for any animal.

"This is a crazy relationship," said Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, a sanctuary for chimps in Texas.

"He was probably very bonded with her. I can kind of see it in his eyes this is his surrogate mother."

Authorities have not said whether Ms. Herold will face criminal charges. Connecticut state law allowed her to own the chimp as a pet.



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