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She doesn't have any arms or ' legs, so just leave her here with us, go home and try again ' THALIDOMIDE SURVIVORS' FIGHT FOR LIFE: - WHAT HOSPITAL TOLD NEWBORN LEIGH'S PARENTS.

Byline: NAOMI McELROY

LITTLE Tommy Burbage dreamed of being a soccer player when he grew up, because on the pitch he wouldn't need hands to join in.

He is one of Ireland's 32 thalidomide survivors. Like brave Leigh Gath, from Newry, Tommy, from Portarlington, Co Laois, was crippled in the womb by the so-called wonderdrug that was supposed to cure his mother's morning sickness.

Leigh, 47, reveals three tablets of thalidomide was all it took to affect her forever. She said: "When my mother became pregnant with me she had really bad morning sickness, she told me it was so bad she couldn't even keep down water.

"She went to the doctor and he prescribed this wonderdrug thalidomide. It was actually a sedative, the thought behind it was if you were sleeping, you can't be puking.

"She only took three, she didn't like the way they made her feel, she just slept, and while she slept they poisoned me."

Leigh reveals hospital staff broke the news to her parents when she was born by telling them to abandon her.

She said: "They said, 'She doesn't have arms or legs, so just leave her here with us, go home, and try again'. Fortunately for me, they didn't."

She was eventually fitted with artificial legs, in a bid to make her look "normal".

Leigh added: "I hated them, hated them from the first day I wore them, they weren't natural. They felt heavy and uncomfortable."

South of the border, Tommy fitted in perfectly at his local primary school.

He said: "Mr Lean always said I was as good as anyone at printing, he'd say to the other lads, 'Why can't you write as good as him?'" Amazingly, thalidomide was still on sale in Ireland a year-and-a-half after it was officially withdrawn from shelves. Government bosses feared if word got out, women who had taken the drug might have abortions.

Tommy's family were given just pounds 1,300 compensation. His father said: "We did believe that if we didn't take that, we wouldn't get anything."

In the North, Leigh's family were given pounds 5,000, and told she would be dead by the time she was 18. Even her first boyfriend dumped her, saying: "What would my friends think if they saw me with you?" She said: "It was like a slap in the face, that's the closest I came to a nervous breakdown." Meanwhile in Portar-lingtonTommy was too shy to ask any girls out.

He said: "I don't feel handicapped, but if I look in the mirror, I am handicapped.

"I would have liked to be married and have a family, but it wasn't to be." But Leigh did marry, and went on to have two children. Sadly husband Declan developed a drink problem, and they later divorced.

She added: "The only thing I couldn't do was bath them, they were too slippy." But she remarried, to fellow thalidomide survivor Eugene, who went on to adopt her children.

Leigh said: "He's my rock, when I had cancer two years ago he shouldered all the responsibilities."

They tell their stories to RTE One show Outbreak to be broadcast on Tuesday.

Tommy now lives with girl-frienLiz McMullen, and her daughter Vicky. He said: "I'm sort of lucky that I wasn't married at an early age, because I wouldn't have met Liz. I would have liked to have the full use of my arms, but I look around and see people who are worse off."

TOMMY

BURBAGE

CAPTION(S):

Battle ...Leigh as she grew up Care...Leigh looks after her two children Smiles...Leigh Gath with husband Eugene and children Karl and Aisling at home in Pallaskenry, Limerick Dreams... Tommy says he sees people worse off
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 21, 2009
Words:621
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