August 7, 2015
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Frances Kelsey died this morning in London, Ontario, at the age of 101. Why is that worthy of note? Well, Frances Kelsey was the Canadian lady who prevented the thalidomide tragedy from spreading to the USA.
Thalidomide was developed by a German pharmaceutical company as a remedy for morning sickness. It went on sale there as an over the counter medication in 1957 and soon thereafter in other European countries. It was available in Canada from 1959 to 1962. In 1960, Doctor Kelsey was medical agent for the US Food and Drug Administration when the German company tried to get approval to sell thalidomide in the USA. She had doubts about its safety and refused to approve it, despite the pressure applied by the pharmaceutical company.
There were 10,000 to 20,000 babies born in Canada with missing or deformed limbs because their mothers took thalidomide during pregnancy. Many more were born in Europe, none in the USA. If you were born in the USA during the years that thalidomide could have been available, you can thank God that this lady trusted her doubts about the safety of this medication and refused to allow its approval.
But let me tell you about another remarkable lady. I can’t remember her name and don’t know what has become of her, but she was born without arms due to thalidomide. Thirty years ago, she was writing a column for the weekly newspaper that served the community where we lived in Ontario. She lived alone in an apartment in another small town. In one article she told how she used her toes to type her articles, to do her cooking and all the other daily tasks that we use our hands for.
One day I came out or the bank just as a young lady with no arms left the newspaper office across the street. I watched as she walked around to the driver’s door of a jeep-type vehicle, lifter her right foot out of her boot (it was winter and there was snow on the ground) reached into her coat pocket for the keys, unlocked the door, put her foot back in the boot, got in the vehicle and drove away.
And most of us think our feet are only for walking on!