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Thalidomide Birth Defects Pictures

Thalidomide Birth Defects Pictures

Born Without Arms or Legs: The Secret Legacy of Thalidomide

Her Story, Our Story: In this co-authored piece about sedatives during the Baby Boom, Eileen Cronin and Leslie Mink share personal stories about thalidomide. Michele Botwin Raphael contributed her writing, editing and content curation.

One of the horrific and still negligently under-reported legacies of the Baby Boom era was the widespread use of thalidomide by pregnant women, which led to countless, yet still vastly undocumented, cases of children born in the United States and abroad with severe deformities, including the lack of limbs, hands, fingers and toes.

The drug, developed by The Grunenthal Group in Germany and distributed out of Cincinnati, was touted as the “first safe sleeping pill” for pregnant women and, reportedly, approximately 2.5 million tablets were given to at least 20,000 patients in the U.S.. Yet, shockingly, the number of reported cases of affected infants — now adults — in the U.S. remains as low as 17. I am one of them. Leslie Mink is another.

We want to call on the media for deeper coverage of the truth about thalidomide and its U.S. victims, along with a meaningful gesture of apology — and ideally compensation — from Grunenthal, the company responsible for developing and mass marketing the drug that has had such devastating effects on the lives of so many — reported or not.

How it happened

THALIDOMIDE was first marketed to people as a sedative, or sleeping pill, in 1957 in West Germany, then under the name Contergan.

It started to be prescribed to pregnant women when it was found to help nausea and morning sickness.

Only later was the drug found to seriously harm the development of unborn babies and cause major birth defects, especially if it was taken in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

The drug led to the arms and legs of babies being very short or imperfectly formed. Other side effects included deformed eyes, ears and hearts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. Around 40 per cent died at birth or very shortly after.

The drug was withdrawn in 1961 before the UK government issued a warning in May 1962.

Thalidomide syndrome symptoms

When an individual is born with phocomelia due to drugs or pharmaceuticals, it is known as thalidomide syndrome. The symptoms of thalidomide syndrome are defined by absent or shortened limbs; causing flipper hands and feet. According to Anthony J Perri III, and Sylvia Hsu they can additionally receive:

  • Palsy disorder of the face
  • Ear and eye abnormalities; resulting in limited/complete loss of hearing or sight
  • Gastrointestinal and genitourinary tract disorders
  • Ingrown genitalia
  • Undeveloped/missing lungs
  • Distorted digestive tract, heart, kidney
  • disorders to the limbs

Successful cases

Compensation for victims of medication side effects isn’t automatic. The law usually requires the affected person to prove their injuries were the fault of the manufacturer or distributor. Then they commonly use the legal argument of negligence on the company’s part.

Can any financial amount ever truly compensate for what thalidomide victims had to go through? Luciana Christante/Flickr, CC BY

To prove fault, the person may argue she suffered injury because a company didn’t adequately test the product before its release, didn’t provide warnings, or didn’t immediately withdraw a product once aware of its side effects.

Australian woman Lyn Rowe, who was born without arms and legs after her mother took thalidomide during pregnancy in the 1960s, used these arguments in a recently successful claim.

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