In 2011, the new face of Charla Nash was finally unveiled.
It all began four years ago, back in February 2009. Charla can’t recall much from the day of the incident. What she does remember is that she had always avoided her friend Sandra Herold’s pet chimpanzee, named Travis. He had shown aggression to her before, so Charla was wary of the animal.
One afternoon, 55 year old Charla was helping Sandra lure Travis the chimp back inside the house when things went terribly wrong. Travis jumped on Charla and began brutally attacking her by ripping off her nose, lips, eyelids, and hands.
By the time the police arrived and shot the 200 pound chimp, the damage to Charla’s face was substantial. The paramedics were unable to identify what gender she was, and doctors thought it was unlikely that she would even survive.
But Charla surprised everyone. Despite undergoing intense marathon surgeries to her face and hands, she gradually recovered from the traumatic incident, although she was left with no hands, blind, and an extremely disfigured face, which she kept covered at all times.
In June 2011, Charla underwent facial reconstructive surgery. Doctors had to rebuild her face completely and repair the damage using extensive skin grafts. Miraculously, the operation stuck, and Charla’s new face was revealed to the public soon after.
Following the surgery, Charla wrote a statement to the media, saying, “I will now be able to do things I once took for granted … I will have lips and will speak clearly once again. I will be able to kiss and hug loved ones.”
Like Charla, a young girl by the name of Charlotte Ponce made headlines last year for her facial reconstructive surgery as well.
While sleeping in her crib, Charlotte, an infant at the time, suffered a violent raccoon attack. The raccoon crawled into her crib and brutally mauled the child’s face.
Although doctors were able to save young Charlotte’s life, the damage to her face was significant. She grew up and attended school like any other girl, but she hardly had a “normal” life.
At the age of ten, just before her fourth year at Edgewood Elementary, Charlotte began receiving one of many facial reconstructive operations. She recovered, and returned to Edgewood Elementary soon after.
Despite their age differences, the stories of Charla and Charlotte are similar in many ways. Both lived through a brutal animal attack that left them scarred and disfigured, and both were able to overcome it through facial reconstructive surgeries—operations that were not solely done for practical purposes, but largely for cosmetic ones.
After healing from the chimp attack, Charla was not in pain and she was still able to speak, which she did on Oprah just before her facial reconstructive operation.
And when interviewed about why he was leading the team to rebuild young Charlotte’s face, the head surgeon Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate replied, “I’ve got to help her. She’s at an age where if we let it go too long, she could go through depression.” The concern was that as she got older, Charlotte would experience emotional trauma and social isolation because of her deformity.
In essence, this is what cosmetic surgeons seek to do. Dr. Chaiyasate’s response, “I’ve got to help her,” embodies the mission of plastic and corrective surgery.
But the help doctors like Chaiyasate are talking about is not just superficial. It may start as an external, physical change, but the hope is that it becomes internal—changing the exterior to renew the interior.
In the cases of Charla and Charlotte, surgeons were able to turn a tragic situation into one of hope by giving them back a sense of normalcy and self-confidence. Stories like these are why so many cosmetic surgeons do what they do.