“I remember every Sunday how everyone else’s parents would arrive one by one and I didn’t have anyone. I felt lost.”
In England the fight for proper compensation revolved for many years around the story of a young Thalidomide girl. Louise was born to a wealthy couple in Enfield Essex in 1962 with deformities to both arms and legs. Her father, David Mason, was a successful London art dealer and didn’t accept the low compensation offer Distillers first made to Thalidomide survivors. The drug company Distillers, licensed by Grünenthal in the UK and sold Thalidomide under the brand name ‘Distival’, required everyone’s signature on the deal before they would pay out any compensation. David Mason and five other families refused and instead initiated a huge media campaign to secure appropriate payments. Their efforts paid off. In the end Distillers increased their offer ten fold.
During that time many articles were written about the Mason family and especially Louise, who was extremely damaged by Thalidomide. Often the Masons were interviewed on television, where they appeared all together as a happy family. What the public did not know was that Louise wasn’t living with her parents and three siblings, she was growing up in an institution, away from her family, where her parents had sent her right after she was born. “I was left alone most of the time. My parents had other children. I went home three weeks a year, for a week, one week in the summer, one week at Christmas and one week at Easter.”
And as a child Louise felt abandoned and suffered years of bullying and abuse.
When Louise was 17 she moved out and started living on her own, finally enjoying life, especially during her university years, where she went out partying and became vice-president of the student union. She got married and started her own family. She says she would use her teeth to undo the tape of her babies’ diapers. Her first marriage fell apart but Louise found love again later in life with Darren, a fellow Thalidomider born with shortened arms. Unfortunately her health is declining after a recent kidney transplant.
Louise has worked for many years in insurance and has become a disability rights campaigner. She wrote about her life story in the book “No Hand to Hold & No Legs to Dance on: A Thalidomide Survivor’s Story” (2009).