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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 20:20 GMT
Appeal for disabled Kenyan baby
Geoff Adams-Spink
Disability affairs correspondent, BBC News website

A British disability group - Thalidomide UK - is trying to raise money to bring a severely deformed Kenyan baby to the UK for medical treatment.

Photo of Freddie
Freddie was born severely disabled but the cause is not known
The child, who is now eight-months-old, was born without arms or legs.

Freddie, as he is known, was adopted by a British woman and her Kenyan husband - Dee and Sammy Knott-Mtile - who run a health and education project in Malindi, north of Kenya's second city, Mombasa.

Having exhausted the medical possibilities in Kenya, Freddie's adoptive parents appealed to UK-based organisations for help.

"I was quite shocked to see a baby that had been so severely damaged," said Freddie Astbury, president of Thalidomide UK.

"I was born without limbs myself but this baby was a lot worse."

Thalidomide UK is trying to raise 10,000 in order to bring the baby to Britain where he can be properly assessed.

"We've got to make sure this baby has a chance of life very much like we Thalidomiders have in the UK," said Mr Astbury.

Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women in the UK in the late 50s and early 60s and led to a number of children being born with deformed limbs and other impairments.

Photo of Freddie surrounded by Christmas decorations
Freddie enjoying his first Christmas
The medical team that will examine the baby is likely to be led by paediatrician, Dr Claus Newman, who treated many of those affected by the drug in the UK when they were children.

Cause unknown

Despite the fact that Thalidomide has been suggested as a possible cause of Freddie's disabilities, Dr Newman says it is only one of a number of factors that can cause birth defects.

"When the degree of deformity is very extreme virtually all the different causes look very similar," he told the BBC News website.

Although Thalidomide is known to be available in Kenya, Freddie's adoptive mother thinks one reason why more babies with similar disabilities are not known about is because they are not allowed to survive.

But according to Dr Newman such theories "simply don't wash".

He thinks there needs to be much stronger evidence before concluding that Thalidomide is the cause of limb deformities found in some children.

"The majority of the population would be born in cities and to dispose of a malformed child in a city is more difficult than to do so in the bush."

On the other hand, Martin Johnson, the director of the Thalidomide Trust - the charitable organisation which distributes compensation money to those affected by the drug in the UK - thinks that if Thalidomide was in use in the area where the child's mother lived, "it would have to be considered as a prime suspect".

Whatever the cause of his disabilities turns out to be, Freddie's adoptive parents are seeking support and advice in order to maximise his chances.

He is still very small, weighing just four kilograms.

Photo of Dee Knott-Mtile holding Freddie
Freddie's mum, Dee, wants him to see specialists in the UK
"He is feeding - he's just taking time to put weight on," said Mrs Knott-Mtile.

She says that although Freddie is unable to hold things himself, he enjoys gently 'head-butting' a collection of soft toys which have been hung on the verandah of the family's home.

Mr and Mrs Knott-Mtile are in contact with Dr Newman by e-mail, and he has already given them some basic tips on how best to look after him.

"He asked us to make Freddie a chair shaped like a flower pot so that he would at least be able to sit up," she said.

"We're doing that at the moment and we're putting a mirror on it so that if he sees himself he can try to lift his head and strengthen his neck."

But Mrs Knott-Mtile thinks such advice is no substitute for the face-to-face consultations and extensive medical tests that her son needs, and which can only be achieved in the UK.

"I just want to bring him to his full potential."

Thalidomide: 40 years on
07 Jun 02 |  UK News

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