Losing Face: Five People Who Got New Ones

Ransom Riggs

You've probably heard about Charla Nash, the woman who recently had her face torn off by Travis the chimpanzee, who despite being able to open doors with keys, dress himself, and use a computer to log on to the internet, wasn't socialized enough to prevent a rampage. Nash's injuries were grave to say the least, but surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic hope they can complete a face transplant operation on her in the near future -- just as they did a few years ago to a French woman named Isabelle Dinoire, who was (in)famously mauled by her dog while sleeping. These days, thanks to a brain-dead face donor, Isabelle can smile and walk through a crowd without immediately being recognized as a transplant patient, which given the severity of her injuries and the surgery, is quite an achievement.

Charla Nash wasn't the first American to have her face torn off by a chimp, however. A few years ago, an animal lover named James Davis was attending a birthday party for a chimpanzee named Moe at an animal ranch near Bakersfield, California, when two other chimps got loose from their cage and attacked him. He lost a great deal of his face, one of his feet and some other unmentionable parts as well. While only weighing between 120 and 150 pounds, chimpanzees are much stronger than humans, and are known to kill other chimps in the wild. The owners of the animal ranch where the attack happen claim it was the only violent incident to occur there in twenty years of operation -- and for no discernible reason.

A Bangladeshi teen named Alom Shah Khan had his face torn off in a slightly more dramatic fashion (I know that's hard to imagine) -- by a Bengal tiger when Alom was just a toddler. The tiger dragged him from his bed while the young boy was sleeping, and tore his face off. He became a beggar, and lived that way for seventeen years until he was discovered by aid workers, and his plight made known to a group of British surgeons. Surgeons in Bangladesh had been reconstructing his face bit by bit over the years, but by age 18 he was still left without a nose or lips. The final operation -- his 28th -- was a success, and doctors used cartilage from one of his ribs to shape the bridge of his nose, and a skin graft was taken from his upper arm.

In what was a less dramatic accident -- in that it didn't involve a wild animal -- but perhaps a more dramatic story, in 1994 a girl from northern India lost her face and scalp in an accident involving a threshing machine. Her parents raced to the hospital with two halves of the girl's face on ice in a plastic bag, and surgeons were miraculously able to reconnect her arteries and replant the skin of her face. Which is to say, amazingly, it could've been worse.