Thalidomide!

The Canadian tragedy.

In 1962 a black cloud fell over Canadian children -- The tragedy called "Thalidomide."
In 1962 a black cloud fell over Canadian children — The tragedy called “Thalidomide.”

Thalidomide was synthesized in West Germany in 19541 by Chemie Grünenthal. It was marketed (available to patients) from October 1, 1957 (West Germany) into the early 1960’s. Thalidomide was present in at least 46 countries under many different brand names. (See The many faces of Thalidomide for a partial list of those names.)

Thalidomide became available in “sample tablet form” in Canada in late 1959. It was licensed for prescription use on April 1, 1961. Although thalidomide was withdrawn from the West German and United Kingdom markets by December 2, 1961, it remained legally available in Canada until March 2, 1962, a full three months later. Incredulously thalidomide was still available in some Canadian pharmacies until mid-May 1962.

Thalidomide, was hailed as a “wonder drug” that provided a “safe, sound sleep”.

Thalidomide was a sedative that was found to be effective when given to pregnant women to combat many of the symptoms associated with morning sickness. It was not realized that thalidomide molecules could cross the placental wall affecting the foetus until it was too late.

Because Thalidomide had been so widely prescribed, the tragedy was widespread and varied.
Because Thalidomide had been so widely prescribed, the tragedy was widespread and varied.

Thalidomide was a catastrophic drug with tragic side effects. Not only did a percentage of the population experience the effects of peripheral neuritis, a devastating and sometimes irreversible side effect, but thalidomide became notorious as the killer and disabler of thousands of babies.

When thalidomide was taken during pregnancy (particularly during a specific window of time in the first trimester), it caused startling birth malformations, and death to babies. Any part of the foetus that was in development at the time of ingestion could be affected.

For those babies who survived, birth defects included: deafness, blindness, disfigurement, cleft palate, many other internal disabilities, and of course the disabilities most associated with thalidomide: phocomelia (see FAQ).

The numbers vary from source to source as no proper census was ever taken, but it has been claimed that there were between ten and twenty thousand babies born disabled as a consequence of the drug thalidomide. There are approximately 5,000 survivors alive today, around the world. Never counted and never to be known, are the numbers of babies miscarried, or stillborn, let alone the number of family members and parents who have suffered over the years.

Around the world, in the late 1960’s and into the early 1970’s, the victims of the drug thalidomide and their families entered into class action legal suits, or threatened actions, against the various drug companies who manufactured and/or distributed the drug, and they were eventually awarded settlements. In most countries, these settlements included monthly or annual payments based on the level of disability of the individual.

What made Thalidomide particularly tragic was the it was a lifelong tragedy, for which there was no cure.
What made Thalidomide particularly tragic was the it was a lifelong tragedy, for which there was no cure.

In Canada, the story was quite different. Canadian victims of the drug were forced to go it alone, family by family. No case ever reached a trial verdict. Rather, families were forced to settle out-of-court with gag orders imposed on them not to discuss the amounts of their settlements. This resulted in wide disparity in the compensation amounts, with settlements for individuals with the same levels of disability varying by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 1987, the War Amputations of Canada established The Thalidomide Task Force to seek compensation for Canadian-born thalidomide victims from the government of Canada. As Canada had allowed the drug onto the Canadian market when many warnings were already available about side effects associated with thalidomide, and as Canada left the drug on the market a full three months after the majority of the world had withdrawn the drug, it was felt and argued that the government of Canada had a moral responsibility to ensure that thalidomide victims were properly compensated.

In 1991, the Ministry of National Health and Welfare (now Health Canada), through an “Extraordinary Assistance Plan” awarded small compassionate lump-sum financial assistance grants to Canadian-born thalidomiders. These payments were quickly used by individuals to cover some of the extraordinary costs of their disabilities, and for most victims, these monies are long gone.

Thalidomiders are now in their early fifties and they are experiencing physical deterioration due to stress placed on their different body structures, further limiting their abilities, often resulting in new disabilities (see degeneration) , and therefore compounding the tragedy. The needs and problems of this unique population are many and overwhelming.

Source: The Canadian Thalidomide Association.

 

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Sir Isaac Brock – Canada’s Hero

Sir Isaac Brock
Sir Isaac Brock

Sir Isaac Brock, military commander, administrator of Upper Canada (b at St Peter Port, Guernsey 6 Oct 1769; d at Queenston Heights, UC 13 Oct 1812). Isaac Brock was educated in Guernsey, Southampton (England) and Rotterdam. At age 15 he entered the army by buying a commission in the 8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot. He transferred to the 49th Regiment in 1791 and soon after demonstrated his willingness to take a calculated risk. Another officer who was both “a confirmed duelist” and a dead shot challenged him. Being tall, Brock knew that he would present an easy target at the usual distance of 12 paces apart. As they prepared for the duel, he demanded that they meet on equal terms. For this purpose he produced a handkerchief and insisted they fire at each other, not from the usual distance apart, but across the handkerchief. His antagonist declined and soon after left the regiment. Brock seemed to possess almost uncanny insight into what others – particularly opponents – were thinking and how they might respond to determined action.

Brock’s military career advanced another step in 1797 when he bought a commission as lieutenant colonel and became the regiment’s commanding officer. His brother, William, loaned him the money to buy commissions—a common practice in the British army of that time—and later, when William went bankrupt, Brock was faced with the problem of paying off his debt. He arrived in Canada in 1802 with the 49th and was promoted to major general in 1811. With the forthcoming departure of Francis Gore, he was appointed president of the executive council of Upper Canada (administrator) and commander of the forces there. At the outset of the War of 1812, he took the bold initiative of ordering the capture of the American Fort Michilimackinac.

Brock in the War of 1812

Isaac Brock's coat he was wearing at the time of his death. Note the bullet hole.
Isaac Brock’s coat he was wearing at the time of his death. Note the bullet hole.

Major General William Hull had invaded Upper Canada in July, but withdrew to Fort Detroit upon learning that Brock was leading troops to that front. Brock arrived at Fort Amherstburg and knew from captured correspondence about serious dissension among Hull’s officers and his increasing fear of defeat. Brock met Tecumseh and the two became firm allies. Brock decided to act quickly before Hull received reinforcements. On the night of 15-16 August, Tecumseh and his warriors crossed the Detroit River to be followed early the next morning by Brock and his troops. Brock’s intention was to form up his troops and hope Hull would come out of his strong, well-armed fort to fight in the open. But, on hearing of American troops at his rear, Brock decided on immediate attack. He led his troops forward even though all they could see facing them as they approached were two 24-pounder guns, their gunners standing by with their matches burning.

Brock was urged to let his officers precede him and he refused because he would never ask his men to go where he would not lead them. He was counting on Hull to back down and he was right. Without consulting anyone, the American general ordered the gunners not to fire, had a white flag raised in the fort, and sent two officers to ask for terms. Brock sent his aides Colonel John Macdonell and Captain John Glegg into the fort, where they negotiated Hull’s total surrender. Afterwards, there was some criticism that Brock had acted rashly but in a letter to his brothers, he asserted that he had proceeded “from a cool calculation of the pours and contres.” His calculated risk produced a completely unexpected victory with the capture of an American army, fort, and territory (Michigan), as well as great quantities of war materiel. A mood of defeatism in Upper Canada changed to optimism that the troops, militia and Aboriginal allies could defend the province.

The Fallen Hero

Isaac Brock's monument at Queenston Heights. It is the second monument dating from 1853 (the first monument, dating from 1840, was destroyed by a saboteur.)
Isaac Brock’s monument at Queenston Heights. It is the second monument dating from 1853 (the first monument, dating from 1840, was destroyed by a saboteur.)

When the Americans invaded again at Queenston Heights, Brock was awakened from sleep at Fort George and rode hastily to the village. Almost as soon as he arrived, the Americans seized a gun battery on the heights. Brock decided a direct attack was needed immediately without time to wait for reinforcements. His calculated risk proved to be rash, for as he led his troops he was hit in the chest by a shot from an American soldier. Brock died instantly without delivering any of the final words (such as “Push on brave York Volunteers”) that have been attributed to him.

The memory of Brock, the saviour of Upper Canada, remains extraordinarily strong in Ontario history. His body, interred at Fort George, was moved in 1824 to the summit of Queenston Heights under an imposing monument, which was destroyed in 1840, but replaced in 1853. Today, the stately Brock’s Monument dominates the battlefield.

Source: “War of 1812”

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