Nova Scotia

Thalidomide survivor in N.S. hoping for more compensation

A thalidomide survivor living in New Glasgow, N.S., is one of 95 victims across Canada hoping Ottawa will finally consider more compensation.

MPs debate motion to support Canadians born with birth defects from thalidomide

Canadians who were born with severe birth defects after their mothers were prescribed the Health Canada-approved drug Thalidomide in the 1960s want more compensation. (Mike Derer/Associated Press)

A thalidomide survivor living in New Glasgow, N.S., is one of 95 victims across Canada hoping Ottawa will finally consider more compensation.

The thalidomide story is still remembered as one of the most horrific health scandals in Canadian history. In the early 1960s, thousands of pregnant women worldwide took the drug to combat morning sickness and insomnia.  

But thalidomide caused severe birth defects and stillborn deaths.  

Health Minister Rona Ambrose opened the door to new negotiations, saying she will meet with survivors next week.

Lee Ann Dalling, 52,  came into this world with severe birth defects after her mother took the approved drug.

“I would be classified in one of the more severe categories because it affected both upper and lower. I was born with no hip sockets, shortened femurs, two dislocated knees. And in the upper extremities I have three fused wrist bone in each hand and my thumb was replaced on each hand with a fifth finger," she said.

At the time, Nova Scotia hospitals weren’t equipped to handle her disabilities so her family travelled to Montreal several times a year for care.

Her father would have to take time off of work, and her parents had to find child care for her sister.

“It was a challenging time,” she said. Dalling went on to get an education, a job, even becoming a powerlifter.

“My parents raised me to be independent,” she said

Still, she says she can’t stand or walk for any long periods of time.

No apology

In many countries victims received lifetime monthly allowances as compensation. But in Canada, survivors, including Dalling, were forced to settle for a lump sum of $50,000 to $90,000 in the 1990s.

“There was never any apology, to this day, offered to the whole thalidomide tragedy, which I think is despicable. The amounts that were offered might equate to a year’s salary for a cabinet minister or something like that, or maybe even their pension,” said Dalling.

"For it to be efficient for us to supposedly last a lifetime and care for the ever-increasing needs and demands was just not even within the ballpark.”

The Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada  is calling on the federal government to provide $100,000 a year to each of the surviving victims.

“I just hope [the federal government] acts quickly,” said Dalling, “It’s not an unrealistic request. I think that 50 years later that there’s no time to be negotiating or trying to stymie or delay things in any further than the government has over all of these years."