“For every obstacle, there is a solution….over, under, around or through.”
Those are the words that Paul Murphy has lived by all his life. Born with shortened arms and legs, the Thalidomide survivor has faced life’s constant obstacles with a determination and cheery optimism that somehow, some way, he will get ahead. Along the way there have been many ups and downs, business and personal successes and failures that Paul willingly accepts, knowing that he is lucky to be alive.
Paul Murphy could have been one of thousands of Thalidomide babies who died at birth or were aborted, but he was lucky that his father, a general practitioner, was able to save his life. Dr. Claude Murphy had rushed to be with his wife who was in labour with Paul who was in a breech position. Doctor Murphy finding himself the only doctor around, picked up a pair of forceps and delivered his badly deformed son (shortened arms and legs) otherwise the baby would have died.
Paul’s mother, Peggy, wanted to see her newborn but nurses had already spirited the baby to an intensive care unit. It wasn’t until 24 hours later that his mother saw Paul for the first time, a scene she dramatically describes.
In this video, Paul’s mother describes her reaction to Paul when he was born.
Years later, in 1969, Paul would learn from his mother how she had been prescribed Thalidomide by her obstetrician but had only taken one pill which made her sick. It was hard to believe that one little pill had caused all that damage but it would later be discovered that the damage that caused varying deformities to fetuses occurred during a 15 day period, between the 35th and the 50th day of pregnancy. Thalidomide taken before or after that period, would prove to be safe but one pill taken on the wrong day could have terrible results. This anomaly undoubtedly explains the limited number of Thalidomide babies that were born. The toll, given its widespread use, could have been catastrophically higher.
Paul impressed his parents with his ability to move about, so they decided against opting for corrective surgery. Paul was spared the pain and suffering that many Thalidomide kids underwent with series of operations and long hospital stays that dominated their childhoods. Instead, Dr. Murphy worked away in his garage workshop designing and building devices and contraptions from scooters to motorized cars that would help his handicapped son get around. This ingrained in Paul a love of motor vehicles and the creativity of invention.
When it came to education, school authorities insisted that even though Paul was intellectually a normal, if not advanced, child, he still would be placed in a classroom for disabled children, many of whom were disabled mentally. That meant that Paul got off to a slow start and for years was always trying to catch up.
After graduating from high school, Paul had two goals – get a job and move out of his parents’ home and into a place of his own. He founded several businesses with a small compensation he won in the US against the drug distributor Richardson-Merrell. Paul became the vice president of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada and was a leading advocate for many years, pushing for much needed compensation from the Canadian Federal Government. At one point during his term on the Board he was forced to address a difficult moral dilemma. After clinical testing, another American drug company was trying to bring Thalidomide back on the market as a treatment for sufferers of Leprosy, Aids, and some forms of cancer. After wrestling with these issues, Paul finally decided to support the drug company’s application for licensing in the United States.
Today Paul is an automotive compliance specialist running his own company, dealing with regulatory and standards development relating to transportation and accessibility issues. He has also continued inventing and has designed and developed several new accessibility products.
Paul is the proud father of Brittany, and lives with his fiancé Barbara Martin in Selkirk, Manitoba.
“We knew when we got to 50 it was going to start getting rough. And guess what,
it’s getting rough and it’s only going to get worse for a lot of individuals.”