Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 10:34 UK

Thalidomide poses new challenges

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of John Roberts using his camera
John Roberts now has useful vision in both eyes

People disabled by the morning-sickness drug, thalidomide, are now facing new health problems as they approach middle age.

A 46-year-old man from Brighton found it particularly difficult when he was told he needed reading glasses.

As well as other birth defects caused by the drug, John Roberts' ears did not develop.

Because he is unable to wear glasses, Mr Roberts has had laser treatment on his "bad" eye and it is now usable.

Mr Roberts says he relies on his vision for reading newspapers, labels and the controls of his digital camera - he is a keen photographer.

As well as being born with the characteristic short arms caused by thalidomide - the morning sickness pill that caused birth defects in the late fifties and early sixties - his outer ears did not develop and his right eye was considered not to be functional by opticians.

As reading glasses were considered impractical, the optician and GP referred Mr Roberts to an opthalmic consultant at East Grinstead's Queen Victoria Hospital.

Laser technology

The consultant, Sheraz Daya, spent more than a month testing the stability of his patient's vision before using laser technology to correct the sight in the apparently non-functioning eye.

"This is an extreme case and highlights what we are now able to achieve with experience and the precision of modern surgical technology," said Mr Daya.

"The fact that he [Mr Roberts] is not able to wear glasses - or insert contact lenses because of his shorter arms - meant that surgery was the solution."

Mr Daya - who performed the operation on the NHS - describes Mr Roberts' vision as "better than he has ever experienced".

The patient himself is more than pleased with the result - he can not only read his watch with his newly corrected eye, but also the manufacturer's name on the dial.

"It's wonderful not to have to think about glasses and the inconvenience of trying to balance them on my nose," he said.

Mr Roberts already has to attach a hearing aid to a magnetic plate inserted under his skin every morning.

"I had done a lot of research about the treatment and the hospital on the internet before I agreed to the operation," he said.

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