Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Thalidomide survivor steps up pressure for compensation from Germany

By Victoria Leonard

A thalidomide campaigner from Co Down who has spent 24 years fighting for compensation for victims of the drug - which has now been claimed to have links to Nazi Germany - says she is hoping for "light at the end of the tunnel".

Former Castlereagh mayor Kim Fenton (55) was born with shortened arms and legs, deformed hands, no thumbs, upside down feet, and no kneecaps, after her mother was given Thalidomide as a sedative at the Royal Victoria Hospital during pregnancy.

The drug was developed by German pharmaceutical company Chemie Grunenthal in the late 1950s, but was withdrawn from the UK in 1961 after tests revealed it disrupted foetal development, causing limb defects and organ damage.

Yesterday, Kim's 82-year-old mother Agnes Lattimer opened up about her ordeal for the first time on BBC Radio Ulster's Thalidomide: The Mother of all Battles programme.

"I've been crying just listening to my mum's sacrifices - I didn't realise she was so heartbroken and upset," Kim said.

"When I was born they only told my mum that I had no thumbs. It wasn't until six days later when she took me home and unwrapped my blanket that she found out the extent of my disabilities.

"As a mother myself, I can't think what that must have been like. My mum is a people-pleaser, and when the nurse encouraged her to take the two tablets to help her sleep she did it, as she didn't want to get anyone into trouble.

"She has been living with the consequences ever since. It wasn't until about 12 years ago that I wrote a poem for her and she cried her eyes out."

Kim continued: "It was a big shock, I never thought my mum felt so guilty and I have never blamed her - she took two tablets under medical supervision. She trusted the doctors and nurses.

"There was no counselling or support back then and Thalidomide children were called 'monster babies' and their parents 'drug addicts'. My mum lost two jobs as she was taking time off to take me to hospital appointments."

Since 1993, mum-of-three Kim has been lobbying for compensation for victims, whose complex medical needs are increasing as they age.

In 2010, the British Government expressed its "sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering" caused by the drug. It created a £20m funding package, £1m of which went to Thalidomide survivors in Northern Ireland. Some survivors also received compensation from Distillers, the company which produced and marketed the drug in the UK.

During the BBC Radio Ulster programme, it was alleged that campaigners had "uncovered historical documents that point to a Nazi link to Thalidomide," and that campaigner Martin Johnson had seen "circumstantial evidence" that suggested the drug may have been initially developed by Hitler's regime as an antidote to nerve gas and was tested on prisoners. This was denied by the drugs company Grunenthal.

It was also alleged "German political interference may have brought about the collapse of a high-profile trial involving Grunenthal". Both the German government and the drugs company denied the allegation.

However, Kim said it is now imperative the German government compensates Thalidomide victims due to the "drastic decline" in their health as they age.

The Thalidomide Trust's National Advisory Council, of which Kim is a member, met with the German government in September, and another meeting is due before Christmas.

"We want the German government to accept responsibility and to pay compensation, which would prove life-changing for victims," she explained. "My case is one of the most severe. There is a lot of bone deterioration - my hip is coming out of its socket, there is a lot of nerve damage affecting my fingers and arms, and I have had five operations in total due to Thalidomide.

"Thalidomide survivors have so many complex health problems, and there are very few thalidomide specialists. Even to adapt our homes or cars to provide basic access and independence takes thousands of pounds. We just want the freedom which other people take for granted."

Belfast Telegraph


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