Thank you, Mr. Casey and ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to start by thanking the Canada's Still Forgotten Thalidomide Survivors group for appointing me spokesperson for our group today and thanking the health committee for allowing me to appear as a witness.
In 2012 I was informed by a heart specialist that I had a unique condition with the organs in my heart. I was born with an extra valve, which branched off the right side of the main aorta, causing my heart to make an extra beat every time it cycled. This syndrome is known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. I remember my mom telling me that I had been born with a murmur. I was also born with phocomelia, affecting my left arm, and with an extra digit on my right hand, which was surgically removed at birth.
I had other problems at birth as well. I was and still am missing internal organs in my left eardrum, which has caused complete tone deafness from birth. The hearing in both ears has now deteriorated to the point that, as recently as 2012, I am considered legally deaf in both ears.
As an eight-year-old, I also had surgery to remove what is called Meckel's diverticulum from my intestines. This condition is known to occur in only 3% of the human population, while Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is known to occur only in only 2% of the population.
I started researching and found that thalidomide side effects included almost everything I have had happen to me. I went to my mother's sister, my aunt Eileen, to ask whether there was a family secret. I knew enough then to know that I wasn't just a gift from God. I needed the truth. That's when she broke down and admitted to me that my mom had taken a morning sickness drug pretty well all through her pregnancy.
I tried diligently to obtain my birth records and medical records, as requested by Crawford. As a child of eight or nine, I remember my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. John Hazlett, telling me, “We have enough X-rays of you to make six complete skeletons.” According to my birth hospital, which is Kingston's Hotel Dieu Hospital, all records and X-rays have been destroyed due to their retention policy.
I did further research and found out that there was a fire in the records building in the mid-seventies. I believe it was in April 1977, because I remember being in the hospital at that time for my 14th birthday. We were locked into our rooms because there was a fire in the basement. There were also two fires in my hometown of Gananoque, one that destroyed the pharmacy my parents used and the other at my family doctor's office.
I believe other survivors in our group have similar stories to tell.
It would really seem as though there is something more to this, but history cannot be brought back. Records can't be recovered. Most of our mothers' doctors are dead or, as I've heard in some cases in our group, fail to remember. As for prescriptions, a pharmacist with over 25 years' working experience told me that no one keeps these records after 10 years.
This now leaves me with the number three criterion: you must already be registered on a government list. After calling the number we were provided by Crawford to see if by some miracle I was on this list, I was told no.
In 1991 I was still under the belief that my problems had “just happened”, so I never sought recognition or compensation. I worked at many jobs, including jobs in factories, from the time I was 17 until eight years ago when my back gave out. I could no longer do the job I had with the Town of Gananoque.
I returned to school and obtained my AZ licence, but no one would hire me—I suspect because of my age and because they believed I could not do the job. I then went to St. Lawrence College and obtained my solar photovoltaic systems installer certificate. Basically, I can set up a solar farm and service it. Again I had the same problem. I was passed by for each and every job I applied for.
In 2003, with my mom still alive, I left her and went overseas to Afghanistan to work for the Department of National Defence. I was a civilian. I served my country that I love so much.
All I am asking here today is that the health committee see to it that the proper qualified professionals examine our medical records that we have managed to obtain and physically interview each one of us so they can make an educated decision as to whether we qualify for the compensation package that we justly deserve.
Finally, it's time to right a very big wrong.