Saskatoon

Saskatoon man's claim for thalidomide compensation up in the air

Greg Brotzel is utterly convinced his deformed left arm and hand are due to the thalidomide he says his mother took while she was carrying him. He's just not certain Health Canada will accept the proof he has to offer, and compensate him.

Government's demand for long-lost documents leave Greg Brotzel in bind

Greg Brotzel is struggling to prove his claim that thalidomide deformed his left arm. (Greg Brotzel)

Greg Brotzel is utterly convinced his deformed left arm and hand are due to the thalidomide he says his mother took while she was carrying him.

He's just not certain Health Canada will accept the proof he has to offer, and compensate him.

"You know if you can't meet the criteria set aside by the government, I almost want to say, 'Well then it's a lost cause,'" he said.

Brotzel, who for 30 years has worked for the Catholic school division in Saskatoon doing welding and other maintenance, belongs to a Facebook group calling itself "Canada's Forgotten Thalidomide Survivors."

They lack one of three documents Health Canada is demanding before paying compensation: 
 • receipt of a settlement from the drug company,
 • medical or pharmacy records that their mothers took thalidomide in Canada during their first trimester or pregnancy, or 
 • being listed on an existing government registry of thalidomide victims.

Hospital records destroyed

In Brotzel's case, his records at old Saskatoon City Hospital where he was born, have been destroyed.

The doctor — who his mother says gave her samples of thalidomide — died 12 years ago.

All Brotzel has is the signed and notarized affidavit of his still-living 85-year-old mom, saying she took that thalidomide for morning sickness while she was pregnant with him.

That, and the too-short left arm with a fused and unbendable elbow. And the left hand with no thumb, and two fingers partly fused together.

After the examination, my mom's family doctor told her to just take me home and don't make an issue with it- Greg Brotzel, pursuing thalidomide compensaion

There may be another complication in his case. Brotzel was born Aug. 30, 1963, well over a year after thalidomide was banned in Canada and the last of it pulled from pharmacy shelves.

Still, he began pursuing the matter this past spring, soon after the former Conservative government in Ottawa announced a $180 million compensation package for thalidomide survivors.

"A short period after my birth, my mom was contacted by City Hospital to bring me back to be examined by two specialists from Europe, which she did," Brotzel wrote in a letter to his then-MP Maurice Vellacott. "After the examination, my mom's family doctor told her to just take me home and don't make an issue with it; raise me like any other child she had."

Long wait for word from Health Canada 

This past June, Brotzel got a response from Health Canada, saying it would contact him again — after a third-party administrator is in place — to advise him on "next steps" and how he can formally submit his application.

It will be up to the administrator to assess what the government calls "newly identified survivors" such as Brotzel.

In the meantime, there has been a federal election, a new government has just been installed, and Brotzel is still waiting to hear back from the government.

He's now 52-years-old, and a lifetime workarounds for his crippled arm and hand are taking their toll.

"It's all about 50 years of overusing my right arm," he said.

He has arthritis in his wrist. His fingers and shoulder are weak. He has pain.

Brotzel would like to retire and compensation would make that more feasible.

Meanwhile, his Facebook group has been petitioning to loosen the criteria to qualify. It says an assessment by a medical expert in thalidomide deformities should be acceptable, and that more time should be allowed to have testing done.

"I'm surprised the government hasn't appointed some physician to travel around the country and meet and examine the people that have stepped up and claimed to be thalidomide victims."
    
    

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