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Pair of artificial legs for a child affected by the drug thalidomide, England, 1968 -1972

The drug thalidomide was used by many pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It eased morning sickness and aided sleep. The drug caused thousands of serious birth anomalies worldwide. Babies were born with underdeveloped or missing limbs. This set of artificial legs was made for Eddie Freeman. Freeman was a child affected by thalidomide. He wore artificial legs from the ages of two to ten until his schoolteacher became dismayed at the amount of times he fell. He has since used an electric wheelchair. He had to have specially made trousers while he wore the artificial legs. This was because the artificial legs were very bulky, especially around the hip. The artificial limbs were made and fitted at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, west London. Queen Mary’s opened in 1915. It became the main limb-fitting centre during and after the First World War. It dealt with just over half of the 41,000 British servicemen who lost a limb. Making prostheses for children affected by thalidomide created new challenges. The technology often followed a trial and error route.

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Glossary: artificial leg

A device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.

Glossary: thalidomide

A drug that was prescribed in the 1950s and 60s as a sedative for pregnant women. Thalidomide was supposed to relieve symptoms of morning sickness. However, it led to birth defects among babies, and was banned. Since 1998, the drug has been avaliable to treat other conditions, but its prescription is highly regulated.