The Woman Who Was Mauled By a 200-Pound Chimp | The Oprah Winfrey Show | Oprah Winfrey Network

Sharing buttons:

WINFREY: It began nine months ago with this 911 call heard around the world.

Listen as Sandra Herold frantically tells police that her pet chimpanzee

is viciously attacking her friend and employee.

911 OPERATOR: Stamford 911.

MS. HEROLD: Send the police.

911 OPERATOR: What's the problem?

MS. HEROLD: The chimp killed my my friend.

Oh, please. He ripped her face off.

911 OPERATOR: He ripped her face off?

MS. HEROLD: Please, he killed her, please?

911 OPERATOR: Why--why are you saying that she is dead?

MS. HEROLD: She's dead. He ripped her apart.

911 OPERATOR: He ripped what apart, her face?

MS. HEROLD: Everything, ugh.

911 OPERATOR: He ripped her apart?

MS. HEROLD: Listen. She's dead. She's dead.

WINFREY: But the woman was not dead.

Miraculously, she survived just the unimaginable.

Her name is Charla Nash.

WINFREY: This is a photograph of Charla Nash taken two years ago

at a local county fair, a lifelong animal lover, in her younger years,

Charla was a rodeo cowgirl.

The rough-and-tumble cowboys affectionately nicknamed her Charlie.

She left home when she was just 17 and met Sandra Herold

at a horse auction a few years later.

They were friends for more than 30 years when in 2004, Charla,

now a single mom, moved with her teenage daughter, Briana,

to Stamford, Connecticut. There Charla worked for the tow

truck business which Sandra operated from her home.

She also sometimes helped care for Sandra's pet chimpanzee, Travis.

Charla had known Travis the chimp for 10 years,

but says she always feared him.

WINFREY: Last February, according to news reports,

Charla got a call from her friend and employer, Sandra.

Travis, the chimp, had escaped from his cage and Sandra

needed help getting the chimp back inside. So she called Charla.

Charla got into her car, drove to Sandra's, and stepped into a nightmare.

WINFREY: When Charla arrived on the rural property, the 14-year-old,

200-pound chimpanzee savagely attacked her.

Frantic, Sandra Herold called 911.

MS. HEROLD: Please, hurry up. He's killing my girlfriend.

911 OPERATOR: Who is killing your friend?

MS. HEROLD: My chimp, my chimpanzee.

911 OPERATOR: Oh, your chimpanzee is killing your friend?

MS. HEROLD: Yes. He ripped her apart. Hurry up.

WINFREY: As first responders raced to Charla's aid,

the 911 call became increasingly chilling.

MS. HEROLD: He is eating her. Please, God, oh, please.

The got to have their guns out. Please have them, please.

WINFREY: When police arrived, Travis went after an officer,

who used his gun to kill the wild ape. Emergency workers,

including Rick Estevan and Andrea Ripco, arrived to a scene of bloody horror.

RICK ESTEVAN: As we were being led to where the patient was,

I saw some fingers, there were some teeth, there was blood trails

up to where the patient was laying down. We didn't really see the

injury until we rolled her over. Her facial structure was completely gone.

ANDREA RIPCO: When I saw her hands,

I would never have imagined that an animal could have done that.

They honestly looked like they went through a meat grinder.

WINFREY: Still conscious, Charla was rushed to Stamford hospital,

where a trauma team led by Dr. Kevin Miller was waiting.

DR. KEVIN MILLER: After we removed the bandages,

we just thought the monkey had ripped off her entire upper jaw,

had ripped off her nose which was just hanging on by a thread.

We found extensive dirt, chimpanzee hair, and several chimpanzee

teeth implanted in the bone. I couldn't believe that this woman was awake

and conscious when she came in.

WINFREY: Against all odds, Charla survived that brutal attack.

For the last nine months, she's endured the grueling daily journey

back from near death. I went to Ohio yesterday to the Cleveland

clinic to meet Charla. On a very special day.

Well, first of all, let me say, happy birthday to you happy birthday

to you happy birthday dear Charla happy birthday to you

CHARLA NASH: Thank you.

WINFREY: It's number 56 for you.

Did you think during this past year that you might not make it to this day?

WINFREY: As we just saw, Charla almost always covers

her face with the hat and scarf.

She wears it, she says, because she doesn't want to scare people.

And she also knows that the tabloids would pay a lot of money

for a picture of her face. In fact, when I visited her yesterday

at the Cleveland clinic, I learned that a guard has been posted

outside her door all this time to protect her privacy and to stop anyone

who might try to photograph her.

No cell phones or cameras are allowed in her room.

WINFREY: Charla will reveal her face to you on her terms.

That is what she said she wanted to do.

And the reason she wanted the "Oprah

Show" there and trusted us to do this in a way that she could

have respect and dignity.

So she will do that later in the show on her own terms.

But when we began our conversation, she was wearing her veiled hat.

WINFREY: Well, thank you for consenting to do this interview with me.

Tell me why you wanted to do the interview now.

MS. NASH: Well, I'm getting stronger, healthier,

and I'd like to put across to people's minds that these exotic animals

are very dangerous and they shouldn't be around.

There's a place for them that is not in residential areas, that's for sure.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. Can you take me back to the date of February 16?

What do you remember of that day?

MS. NASH: I don't remember anything and the they told the doctor

that I don't want to remember, because I couldn't imagine what it was like.

And they told me that if I do start remembering or getting flashbacks,

they have medicine that will help me with that.

WINFREY: Because you don't want to remember?

MS. NASH: I don't want to, I don't. I want to get healthy.

I don't want to wake up with nightmares.

WINFREY: About that day.

MS. NASH: Yeah.

WINFREY: So you don't remember getting the call,

don't remember getting out of the car,

don't remember anything about the chimp attacking you at all?

MS. NASH: No. I only remember it was a colder winter.

We were getting a little more snow.

WINFREY: Do you remember the chimp, Travis, at all?

Do you remember having fed him or being

around him prior to this incident?

MS. NASH: Yes, I do remember going to feed him

a couple times and he was big and scary.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. He was scary?

MS. NASH: Yeah. He was huge.

WINFREY: So was it your job to help take care of him?

Because this was your boss.

MS. NASH: No, it was her pet that she wanted for a companion

. and she had to rush, out a few times or couldn't come home that night.

There was only a few times I fed him.

WINFREY: So you were familiar with him. Were you afraid of him?

MS. NASH: Yeah. Always.

WINFREY: Always afraid of him?

MS. NASH: Yeah.

WINFREY: So you had never seen him out of the cage?

MS. NASH: Only two times when he was really little.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: One time he was running around the yard and swinging

off the trees of the hours and he jumped on my back

and he pulled a big hunk of hair out of my head.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: And I had tears in my eyes and she was laughing.

And I told her it hurts. And the one other time was before

that he was smaller yet and my daughter and I went down

to see her at her shop.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: And that's when I knew she had the chimp

and he was little and drinking from a bottle.

WINFREY: So, when you awakened in the hospital

and they had to tell you what had happened to you, what did you think?

MS. NASH: I don't think I kept grasping what they were saying.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. And once you realized, when you fully

came to understand what had happened to you,

because did they explain to you that you had been

in this horrifying experience where Travis had tried to certainly kill you,

some people say even tried to eat you?

Were you able to comprehend that at all?

MS. NASH: I don't really know when I understood all

of that because I don't ask a whole lot about all my injuries.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: But I guess somewhere along the line that they told me,

you know, Travis had attacked me and I could figure

that out for myself how dangerous he was.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. You just mentioned that you don't think

a lot about your injuries. Are you aware of the extent of your injuries?

MS. NASH: Not all the way.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: Because, it's like less for me to worry about it if I don't know.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. But you are aware obviously,

that you don't have the use of your hands.

As I understand when the paramedics arrived on the scene,

your hands--they say your hands looked like they

had been through a shredder and they were able to reattach

your thumb to your right hand. Is it true that you just realized,

first of all, you woke up and you weren't able to see?

That must have been horrifying for you.

MS. NASH: Well I do remember, I kept saying that,

"Well, one of these days I'm going to see."

And then the doctors say, "No, you're never going to see again."

And I'm like, "Well, I don't know,

they don't know what they're talking about."

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: But the eye doctor came in a couple weeks ago

and said that, "It's a shame they had to remove my eyes."

And that's when I really knew my eyes are not there.

And I said, "no wonder why they said I'd never see."

WINFREY: Because you don't have eyes.

But you didn't realize that you didn't have eyes?

MS. NASH: Because I don't ask.

WINFREY: Have you ever thought about

or considered what your face looks like?

MS. NASH: I don't touch it too much.

I kind of feel like I know that I have my forehead

and I think I--it feels like just patches of tape

or gauze or covering, covering my face.

WINFREY: Are you in pain?


WINFREY: You're in no pain?

MS. NASH: No pain.

WINFREY: So why do you wear the veil?

MS. NASH: So I don't scare people.

And sometimes other people might insult you.

So I figure maybe it's easier if I just walk around covered up.

WINFREY: Covered up. Mm-hmm. Would you mind lifting the veil?

MS. NASH: Oh, not at all.

WINFREY: So we can see?

WINFREY: So the veil is lifted.

You know, many people around the world

want to get a picture of you. You're aware of that, right?

MS. NASH: I had, did hear that there

are a lot of reporters in the beginning.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: Yeah.

WINFREY: Wanted to get a picture of you.

And you are also probably aware that, once we

do this interview and this--your picture is shown now...

MS. NASH: That's fine.

WINFREY: ...throughout the world, that your picture

is going to be broadcast all over the world.

MS. NASH: Uh-huh. That's fine.

WINFREY: And that's fine?

MS. NASH: Yes. I'm starting to get stronger and ready for everything.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

Well, I will tell you, that it is pretty shocking when you take the veil off

and you see the devastation and destruction that has occurred to your face.

It's really pretty shocking.

When other people see it, I'm not quite sure what their reactions are,

but does that bother you?

MS. NASH: No, because people are gonna say

what they're gonna say anyway.

I need to move forward and better and stronger.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. When you think about what you used

to look like and what your life used to be like,

do you feel like the same person?

MS. NASH: Yeah, I feel like I'm still me.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: I'm just, sorry I can't spend more

time like with my daughter.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: I know she misses me.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: I miss her, too.

WINFREY: Yeah, your daughter who is going

to be going to college soon?

MS. NASH: Yeah.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. What does your face feel like?

Because you have this bulbous-- like I understand

that part of your leg was grafted to create a nose for yourself.

So, does that feel like it's hard to breathe or ...

MS. NASH: I can't breathe through my nose.

WINFREY: Yeah, you can't breathe?


WINFREY: No. And they, as I understand it, were able to create a mouth?

MS. NASH: Oh, yeah.

WINFREY: What do you now look forward to for your life?

MS. NASH: As I understand it from the clinic,

I'm not a candidate for hands transplant, because I have no eyesight.

But I'm hoping somewhere along the line. I'll be evaluated.

And that maybe when I get a face transplant, the hand transplant

will be done with it.

Because they have to be done at the same time from the same donor.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. Is there any part of you--let me just get this.

I think there's something there. Is there any part

of you that is angry about what happened?

MS. NASH: No, I don't even think about it.

And there's no time for that anyways, because I need to heal, you know...

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: ...not look backwards.

WINFREY: Do you feel sorry for yourself?

Is it hard to get out of bed some days?

MS. NASH: Yeah, if I don't feel good.

I still push myself to walk, during the day, yeah.

WINFREY: You still push yourself to walk every day?

MS. NASH: Even if I don't feel good.

WINFREY: Even if you don't feel good.

MS. NASH: Mm-hmm.

WINFREY: All right, then. Then, I have no excuse.

All right? I have no excuse ever again. Tell me this.

Do you remember the first time you were able

to be with your daughter, Briana, after the attack?

What was that visit like?

MS. NASH: I kind of remember her saying happy mother's day,

but it was like fading in and out.

WINFREY: She's a senior in high school, living with friends,

as she completes her senior year, as you go through this process here.

What is it that you miss the most about being away from her this senior year?

MS. NASH: Her prom is coming up and I can't pick out her gown.

So I can only hope that she picks out something appropriate to wear.

You know how kids are. And that she had a good time there.

WINFREY: What do you and Brianna do when she comes to visit?

MS. NASH: She gets in bed with me.

WINFREY: She gets in bed?

MS. NASH: Yeah we lay next to each other, we hold each other

and we talk about things, what she does at school or with her friends.

WINFREY: So you're looking forward to her going to college?

MS. NASH: Yeah, I want her to have the best.

I've always wanted everything good for her.

WINFREY: Everything good for your daughter?

MS. NASH: Yep.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. All mothers do. All good mothers do.

MS. NASH: Yeah.

WINFREY: All good mothers do.

Tell me, what have you learned, if anything,

about yourself through--through this experience?

MS. NASH: I have always known that I've been strong.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: Before I was always really independent, wanted to be alone.

One thing I'm noticing now is I don't--I want to be independent

but I don't want to be alone anymore. It's scary. I don't want

to be out somewhere and somebody's stalking me and I don't know it.

I don't want to get on the wrong bus somewhere or lost in a store.

It's just not the same.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. Did you always have this kind of resolve

and this kind of resilient spirit?

MS. NASH: Oh, yeah. If I couldn't do anything, I just took my time,

took a breath and tried it again until I got it done.

WINFREY: Was there any part of you during this ordeal

that thought about giving up?

MS. NASH: Yeah, I think a little bit in the beginning I was like,

unhappy and my brothers made it easy.

And I didn't realize how much I needed them.

WINFREY: So I understand that you also want to be

able to gain some level of independence?

MS. NASH: Yeah I want to--I don't want to drag,

them all day long around with me,

but I do want to be able to do some things by myself.

WINFREY: What's very interesting to me,

being able to sit here this close to you and feel the spirit of you,

the heart of you, after a while I get accustomed to looking at your face.

But I'm sure many people who are watching us right

now can't imagine wanting to go through life if their face was

so disfigured and distorted.

So does it not matter to you what other

people think about how you now look?

WINFREY: When something like this happens

to you that really changes your life forever,

does it shift what you think or feel is important?

MS. NASH: Well, I know before I was always busy working.

I didn't have a lot of time to stop and--but

I would make some times to go drive to my brother's house or something.

But, I'm gonna have more time now.

WINFREY: You're going to have more time now.

There will be a time, hopefully, in the near future,

where you'll be released from the hospital

and you'll be able to move out into the world

and live somewhat independently, never alone,

as you said, and there will be people who will see

you on the street or getting out of a car or in a mall

or wherever and they won't know quite what to do or say

or how to react. What do you want to say to those people?

MS. NASH: I'm the same person I've always been. I just look different.

You know, and there's things that happen in life that, you know,

you can't change it, you know, it's a tragedy.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm.

MS. NASH: Things happen.

WINFREY: Well, god bless you. And happy birthday.

MS. NASH: Thank you so much.

WINFREY: Happy birthday.

MS. NASH: It was nice. Thank you.

WINFREY: Nice. Nice. Thank you. Thank you.