Galway City Tribune - Opinion Piece
Fearless Maggie on her quest for justiceJuly 19, 2012 - 11:50am
Maggie Woods is the face of the Irish Thalidomide Association and the youngest victim of the drug given to pregnant mothers during the late 1950s and early 60s to treat morning sickness.
Just last week she celebrated her 50th birthday with a wide circle of family and friends because she believes that despite her disability, life is to be embraced and enjoyed to the full.
Maggie lives in Cregmore, Claregalway, and works in Tuam but she is well known in the city because it was where she lived first when she arrived here from Dublin, who within a few years was married and the mother of two boys.
In all there are 32 Thalidomide victims in the country seeking compensation from the State on the grounds that the drug should have been taken off the market earlier than it was, as its licence had run out and it was found to cause severe foetal damage. Those children affected were born without limbs, with limbs foreshortened, with impairments of hearing and vision, as well as injury to internal organs.
Maggie’s mother took the drug, Softenon, which contained Thalidomide, while pregnant with her daughter. It should have been off the market a few months previously – and if it had been Maggie’s life would have been very different.
Maggie, now separated and the manager of the Irish Wheelchair Resource Centre in Tuam, is the new chairperson of the ITA and determined to raise awareness for their campaign and to drive their bid for compensation.
“It’s hard to believe that this drug is still on the market is a number of countries, such as Brazil, where it is used for cancer treatment and is believed to keep leprosy at bay. There the women would prefer to have disabled babies than leprosy.
“Our Association is campaigning for the drug to be banned internationally and at the moment we have launched a new campaign to get a better pay out from the State.
“We rejected an offer from the previous Health Minister Mary Harney, on the advice of the current Government and now we can barely get to meet the new Minister!” she says cynically.
Of the Association’s members only three, including Maggie, are willing to give public interviews or be at the coalface of the public campaign.
“Not everyone wants to bring attention to themselves but I don’t mind in the least. I have never tried to hide my own disability and I am very determined when it comes to fighting an injustice and I believe we have been victims of an injustice.”
Maggie was only seven when her parents in Donegal sent her to an orthopaedic hospital in Westmeath.
“It was an institution run by nuns. I wasn’t considered eligible for mainstream education at my local national school because of my height so I was sent away and only came home three times a year until I was 19.
“I am the second oldest of four and my youngest sister didn’t realise I was part of the family. She used to ask me when was I going home,” says the softly spoken Maggie. This is the only time in the interview where she reveals any sadness or bitterness about what happened to her.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.