Frankie: The Woman Who Saved Millions from Thalidomide
Thalidomide: patented in Germany as a non-toxic cure-all for sleeplessness and morning sickness. A wonder drug with no side-effects.
We know differently now.
Today, thalidomide is a byword for tragedy and drug reform – a sign of what happens when things aren’t done ‘the right way’. But when it was released in the 1950s, it was the best thing since penicillin – something that doctors were encouraged to prescribe to all of their patients. Nobody could anticipate what it actually did: induce sleeping, prevent morning sickness, and drastically harm unborn children.
But, whilst thalidomide rampaged and ravaged throughout most of the West, it never reached the United States. It landed on the desk of Dr Frances Kelsey, and there it stayed as she battled hierarchy, patriarchy, and the Establishment in an effort to prove that it was dangerous. Frankie is her story.
This book will astonish you – and for many reasons.
What makes a particularly strong impression is the powerful yet non-sensational style in which it’s been written. It’s that very fact that makes the book more impactful. There are interviews with adults who were affected devastatingly in vitro by thalidomide, a detailed depiction of the general background to the thalidomide scandal as a whole – the way drug trials were conducted, the god-like status granted to doctors and the powerlessness of most women at the time – and a study and assessment of the long-term impact of the whole affair. The authors have clearly conducted a lot of research and used it to produce an informative, shocking and compelling book.
Frankie, the central figure of the book, emerges from this background as the book proceeds. She’s the lone voice in the wilderness for a long time, actively pressured by the drug company to stop holding things up. Her power, emanating from her position in the FDA and her unstinting devotion to doing what was the right thing, contrasts sharply with the role women generally played in the period, as mentioned earlier. She’s one of the pioneers in demonstrating that women are up to doing any task. Her courage and stance saved up to a million babies around the world from the destructive impact of thalidomide.
Dr Frances Kelsey’s story is inspiring and positive. It shows what one person can achieve, and that’s an important lesson to take out of the book. Stand up and be counted.
Author Bio –
JAMES ESSINGER is the author of non-fiction books that focus on STEM subjects and personalities, including Charles and Ada (The History Press) and Ada’s Algorithm (Gibson Square), the latter of which has been optioned for a film. He lives in Canterbury.
SANDRA KOUTZENKO is a bilingual writer whose work spans a variety of categories and topics, ranging from French poetry to English non-fiction, focusing on human nature and the conflict between its potential for greatness and its propensity for destruction.
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