+
upworthy
Education

The very real story of how one woman prevented a national tragedy by doing her job

Frances Oldham Kelsey believed thorough research saves lives. She was so right.

dr. frances oldham kelsey, john f. kennedy, thalomid
Image by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey and President John F. Kennedy.

True
Seventh Generation


Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey had only been with the Food and Drug Administration for about a month when she was tasked with reviewing a drug named thalidomide for distribution in America.

Marketed as a sedative for pregnant women, thalidomide was already available in Canada, Germany, and several African countries.


It could have been a very simple approval. But for Kelsey, something didn't sit right. There were no tests showing thalidomide was safe for human use, particularly during pregnancy.

thalidomide, wonder drug, public health

Kelsey in her office at the FDA in 1960.

Image by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

When Chemie Grünenthal released thalidomide in West Germany years earlier, they called it a "wonder drug" for pregnant women. They promised it would treat anxiety, insomnia, tension, and morning sickness and help pregnant women sleep.

What they didn't advertise were its side effects.

Because it crosses the placental barrier between fetus and mother, thalidomide causes devastating — often fatal — physical defects. During the five years it was on the market, an estimated 10,000 babies globally were born with thalidomide-caused defects. Only about 60% lived past their first birthday.

In 1961, the health effects of thalidomide weren't well-known. Only a few studies in the U.K. and Germany were starting to connect the dots between babies born with physical defects and the medication their mothers had taken while pregnant.

At the outset, that wasn't what concerned Kelsey. She'd looked at the testimonials in the submission and found them "too glowing for the support in the way of clinical back up." She pressed the American manufacturer, Cincinnati's William S. Merrell Company, to share research on how their drug affected human patients. They refused. Instead, they complained to her superiors for holding up the approval. Still, she refused to back down.

drugs, medication, medicine

A sample pack of thalidomide.

Image by Stephen C. Dickson/Wikimedia Commons.

A sample pack of thalidomide sent to doctors in the U.K. While more than 10,000 babies worldwide were born with thalidomide-related birth defects, FDA historian John Swann credits Dr. Kelsey with limiting the number of American babies affected to just 17.

Over the next year, the manufacturer would resubmit its application to sell thalidomide six times. Each time, Kelsey asked for more research. Each time, they refused.

By 1961, thousands of mothers were giving birth to babies with shocking and heartbreaking birth defects. Taking thalidomide early in their pregnancy was the one thing connecting them. The drug was quickly pulled from shelves, vanishing mostly by 1962.

Through dogged persistence, Kelsey and her team had prevented a national tragedy.

government, FDA, bureaucracy, community

Kelsey joins President John F. Kennedy at the signing of a new bill expanding the authority of the FDA in 1962.

Image by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy honored Kelsey with the Federal Civilian Service Medal. He thanked her for her exceptional judgment and for preventing a major tragedy of birth deformities in the United States:

“I know that we are all most indebted to Dr. Kelsey. The relationship and the hopes that all of us have for our children, I think, indicate to Dr. Kelsey, I am sure, how important her work is and those who labor with her to protect our families. So, Doctor, I know you know how much the country appreciates what you have done."

But, she wasn't done yet. Later that year, the FDA approved new, tougher regulations for companies seeking drug approval, inspired in large part by Kelsey's work on thalidomide.

Reached via email, FDA historian John Swann said this about Kelsey's legacy: "[Her] actions also made abundantly clear to the nation the important public health role that drug regulation and FDA itself play in public health. The revelation of the global experience with that drug and America's close call indeed provided impetus to secure passage of a comprehensive drug regulation bill that had been more or less floundering during the time FDA was considering the application."

Kelsey continued to work for the FDA until 2005. She died in 2015, aged 101, just days after receiving the Order of Canada for her work on thalidomide.

Bureaucratic approval work is rarely thrilling and not often celebrated. That's a shame because it's so critical.

People like Kelsey, who place public health and safety above all else — including their career — deserve every ounce of our collective respect and admiration.


This story originally appeared on 05.20.16

True

Making new friends as an adult is challenging. While people crave meaningful IRL connections, it can be hard to know where to find them. But thanks to one Facebook Group, meeting your new best friends is easier than ever.

Founded in 2018, NYC Brunch Squad brings together hundreds of people who come as strangers and leave as friends through its in-person events.

“Witnessing the transformative impact our community has on the lives of our members is truly remarkable. We provide the essential support and connections needed to thrive amid the city's chaos,” shares Liza Rubin, the group’s founder.

Despite its name, the group doesn’t just do brunch. They also have book clubs, seasonal parties, and picnics, among other activities.

NYC Brunch Squad curates up to 10 monthly events tailored to the specific interests of its members. Liza handles all the details, taking into account different budgets and event sizes – all people have to do is show up.

“We have members who met at our events and became friends and went on to embark on international journeys to celebrate birthdays together. We have had members get married with bridesmaids by their sides who were women they first connected with at our events. We’ve had members decide to live together and become roommates,” Liza says.

Members also bond over their passion for giving back to their community. The group has hosted many impact-driven events, including a “Picnic with Purpose” to create self-care packages for homeless shelters and recently participated in the #SquadSpreadsJoy challenge. Each day, the 100 members participating receive random acts of kindness to complete. They can also share their stories on the group page to earn extra points. The member with the most points at the end wins a free seat at the group's Friendsgiving event.

Keep ReadingShow less
Democracy

This Map Reveals The True Value Of $100 In Each State

Your purchasing power can swing by 30% from state to state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

Map represents the value of 100 dollars.

As the cost of living in large cities continues to rise, more and more people are realizing that the value of a dollar in the United States is a very relative concept. For decades, cost of living indices have sought to address and benchmark the inconsistencies in what money will buy, but they are often so specific as to prevent a holistic picture or the ability to "browse" the data based on geographic location.

The Tax Foundation addressed many of these shortcomings using the most recent (2015) Bureau of Economic Analysis data to provide a familiar map of the United States overlaid with the relative value of what $100 is "worth" in each state. Granted, going state-by-state still introduces a fair amount of "smoothing" into the process — $100 will go farther in Los Angeles than in Fresno, for instance — but it does provide insight into where the value lies.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Woman bakes cheeky curse word pies for her grandma and it becomes a quirky holiday tradition

2023's pie is an homage to her favorite word to use while stuck in traffic.

Canva

You never know where a holiday tradition will come from.

Tried-and-true holiday traditions certainly have their merit, but there’s something quite special, magical even, about discovering personal rituals that commemorate one’s unique life. In my household, for instance, nothing quite rings in the Christmas spirit like sipping my partner’s delicious coquito and putting up a cardboard gingerbread house for my cats.

The beauty of creating customized holiday traditions is that they can be as festive, sentimental, or as silly as you want them to be. And you never know how one small moment can become the catalyst for a tradition that sparks joy year after year.

For Jess Lydon, that tradition is baking expletive-laden pies for Thanksgiving. (This is your profanity warning—the images below contain swear words.)

Keep ReadingShow less
Education

3,700-year-old Babylonian stone tablet gets translated, changes history

They were doing trigonometry 1500 years before the Greeks.

via UNSW

Dr. Daniel Mansfield and his team at the University of New South Wales in Australia have just made an incredible discovery. While studying a 3,700-year-old tablet from the ancient civilization of Babylon, they found evidence that the Babylonians were doing something astounding: trigonometry!

Most historians have credited the Greeks with creating the study of triangles' sides and angles, but this tablet presents indisputable evidence that the Babylonians were using the technique 1,500 years before the Greeks ever were.

Keep ReadingShow less

Peter Bence's piano cover of "Africa" by Toto

Peter Bence’s performance of “Africa” by Toto has over 17 million views on YouTube because of his creative reimagining of the song and, well, just about everyone loves “Africa.”

Bence is a Hungarian composer and producer who has become a viral sensation for his Michael Jackson, Queen, Sia, and Beatles covers. He has over 1.1 million followers on YouTube and has toured the globe, playing in more than 40 countries across four continents.

His performance of “Africa'' is unique because it opens with him creating a rhythm track and looping it by strategically tapping the piano and rubbing its strings to create the sound of shakers and congo drums.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Family posts a very chill note to neighbors explaining why their dog is on the roof

“We appreciate your concern but please do not knock on our door.."

via Reddit

Meet Huckleberry the dog.

If you were taking a stroll through a quiet neighborhood and happened to catch a glance of this majestic sight, you might bat an eye. You might do a double take. If you were (somewhat understandably) concerned about this surprising roof-dog's welfare, you might even approach the homeowners to tell them, "Uh, I'm not sure if you know...but there's a...dog...on your ROOF."

Well, the family inside is aware that there's often a dog on their roof. It's their pet Golden, Huckleberry, and he just sorta likes it up there.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

12 hilariously relatable comics about life as a new mom.

Embarrassing stains on your T-shirt, sniffing someone's bum to check if they have pooped, the first time having sex post-giving birth — as a new mom, your life turns upside-down.

All illustrations by Ingebritt ter Veld. Reprinted here with permission.

Some good not so good moments with babies.



Embarrassing stains on your T-shirt, sniffing someone's bum to check if they have pooped, the first time having sex post-giving birth — as a new mom, your life turns upside-down.

Illustrator Ingebritt ter Veld and Corinne de Vries, who works for Hippe-Birth Cards, a webshop for birth announcements, had babies shortly after one another.

Keep ReadingShow less