Most of America watched in horror as a Connecticut woman lost her face and hands in a 2009 chimp mauling that she barely survived. But the Pentagon watched with more than passing interest, reports the AP, ultimately bankrolling Charla Nash's face transplant in 2011 with the idea that her recovery could have implications for how the American military treats the 50 to 60 disfigured soldiers who might be candidates for a similar procedure. Or, as Nash puts it, "do something good out of all this bad." "It makes sense for us to look at the civilian community to assess if this is a good solution for the military," says a doctor with the Army's Rehabilitative Medicine program.
Now a Boston resident, Nash heads to Brigham and Women's Hospital every six weeks for a range of tests on how her brain is communicating with her new face, the blood flow it's receiving, and how well her eyelids work. Soon, doctors will take her off anti-rejection drugs she's been on since the transplant (she had hand transplants as well, but those were rejected)—again on the military's dime. The move is experimental: The drugs carry a host of health risks that include cancer, and they're generally prescribed for life, putting many transplants in the category of more trouble than they're worth. The Pentagon is also throwing its dimes at 14 different research facilities to delve into face and hand transplants, what the AP notes are the two most often injured body parts on the battlefield. As for Nash, "I think there's an overarching purpose in her life," says her surgeon. "She really wants to help in whatever way she can."