Irish Thalidomide survivors share their stories in new TV series

Thalidomide survivors in Ireland, is told in the second episode of the new series of Scannal on RTÉ1 on Tuesday at 7pm.
Irish Thalidomide survivors share their stories in new TV series

THALIDOMIDE SCANDAL: John Stack of Kerry with his mum, aunt and uncle in the 1970s

THE youngest Thalidomide survivor in Ireland, John Stack, is a farmer from Kerry.

He was born in January 1963, and his mother took thalidomide seven months after the drug should have been taken off the Irish market.

“My mother must have taken it around June of ’62. It was supposed to have been taken off the shelf, but they didn’t,” says John.

His story, and those of other Thalidomide survivors in Ireland, is told in the second episode of the new series of Scannal on RTÉ1 on Tuesday at 7pm.

The morning sickness drug Thalidomide was first sold in Ireland in 1959. But as its popularity grew, so did the number of babies born with catastrophic disabilities, and it took years before it was finally taken off the shelves in Ireland.

Considered by many to be one of the worst medical scandals the world has ever seen, the programme explains how the issue unfolded in Ireland.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 pregnant women were affected by thalidomide worldwide, before the drug was finally withdrawn from the international market in November, 1961. However, in Ireland it would be a further seven months before the Irish authorities acted, with the drug still available over the counter a year on.

Survivors and victims’ families give first-hand accounts of how their lives were impacted by the scandal – and their decades-long search for justice.

When Portlaoise woman Mary Clarken gave birth to her daughter Sharon in 1962, the baby was born with a deformed arm.

“I had taken one little tablet. That one tiny little tablet could do so much damage,” says Mary Clarken.

In Dublin, Finola Cassidy’s mother also took Thalidomide without realising the devastating consequences.

She says: “My mother might have taken two tablets, possibly on day 22 of the pregnancy, and that is when the arms were being developed. It was a big shock. I was baptised in the delivery ward. I wasn’t expected to survive.”

Thalidomide was sold under a number of brand names in Ireland, but the most popular was Softenon. Unlike many other countries, a doctor’s prescription was not necessary here, so Irish mothers suffering from morning sickness could buy thalidomide products over the counter in chemists.

Thalidomide was one of the biggest-selling drugs in the world at the time. One million doses a day were being sold in Germany and in 1961 more than 51,000 packets of Softenon were sold in Ireland.

But unknown to the thousands of pregnant women who were taking thalidomide, the number of children born with deformities was increasing in step with the sales figures.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130
EL_music

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more