Woman given three minutes to live at birth due to severe disabilities turns 60
A woman who was given just three minutes to live when she was born is celebrating her 60th birthday.
Teresa Smith was born on October 12, 1960, with short arms and no legs due to her mum being given the drug Thalidomide during pregnancy.
The drug, made by German firm Grunenthal, was sold in the 1950s and was linked to birth defects including shortened arms and legs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage. It was withdrawn in 1961.
Teresa was born with severe disabilities and confined to a wheelchair due to side effects of the disastrous drug which was prescribed to pregnant women to combat morning sickness.
She was born in Walton and was the second child of her dad Joseph, who was from Kirkdale, and her Irish-born mum, also called Teresa.
She grew up with her big sister Annette who is 16 months older.
Teresa told the Liverpool Echo : “My mother was looking forward to having her second baby and she opted to have me at home so that she could be close to my sister, who was only a toddler.
“However, the plan of normal pregnancy did not quite aspire to what my mother thought would be a wholesome baby to be delivered.
“I was born with short arms and no legs and later diagnosed as a Thalidomide baby.
“In the 1960s there were no scans so this was a big shock to the midwife and the doctor.”
She added: “The midwife was called Rose Clarken. I later learned by Rose that she suspected something was wrong because she couldn’t feel my legs while being examined.”
Teresa was only given three minutes to live and she was rushed to hospital.
“I was there for three years having been a very sick baby and many operations to follow.”
Teresa was lucky to survive. The total number of people affected by Thalidomide use during pregnancy is estimated at 10,000, of whom about 40% died around the time of birth.
Following many operations at Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital, her school days were spent at a number of institutions – and due to the policy then in operation of putting disabled children into separate schools, the experience was not a happy one.
Teresa said of her first school: “Liverpool City Council provided a taxi from my home to school. I had a female carer in the taxi.
“I just remember being dropped off at the door but nobody came to see me take me into class for a long time. I felt truly deserted and lonely and didn’t know what to do as I was just a small five-year-old.
“Indeed my learning in that school was atrocious. The only person that taught me was a dinner lady. She started to teach me to count the counters.”
After fighting to get into a non-disabled school, the former St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School in Litherland, and facing many other challenges, Teresa managed to achieve nine CSEs.
Her first job was as a secretary for the Liverpool Echo, before moving on to Giro Bank in Bootle, where she stayed until she was in her early 30s.
She then re-trained and got a job as a social worker at Liverpool City Council, a career which she followed for 25 years.
She said: “Unfortunately I became ill and I had to retire from social work. It was a very big blow to me as I thought my life had finished. However as they say one chapter closes and another one opens.”
Teresa, who now lives in Southport, runs a successful hypnotherapy coaching business – No Pain No Gain Hypnotherapy.
She now wants to put all her experience to good use by creating a memorial to all the Thalidomide babies who didn’t survive.
“Many people say to me I have been an inspiration to them. I used to love that and sometimes thought of it as rather patronising.
“I have given many lectures regarding disability to the community both here and abroad.
“There is one more task I would like to complete in Liverpool and that is to have a memorial for all the Thalidomide babies who didn’t survive.
“I am thrilled to have reached 60 and a major milestone in life considering I wasn’t supposed to be surviving.
“My mum passed away in April at the age of 94 and I was able to tell her on her deathbed that we were both survivors and the makers of the Thalidomide drug hadn’t beaten us.”