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Frances Oldham Kelsey
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Doctor
    (July 24, 1914-August 7, 2015)
    Born in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, Canada
    Birth name was Frances Oldham
    Pharmacologist
    Reviewer for the US Food and Drug Agency
    Reviewed an application from Richardson Merrell to market thalidomide as a tranquilizer, with specific use to treat morning sickness in pregnant women (1960)
    Withheld approval and requested further studies
    She got into the University of Chicago's graduate school only because a professor apparently misread 'Frances' as 'Francis' and welcomed 'Mr. Oldham' to the program.
    Due to a tendency to oversimplify history, she is often inaccurately presented as having single-handedly uncovered the hazards of thalidomide.
    She was the first recipient of the FDA's Frances O. Kelsey Drug Safety Excellence Award. (What a coincidence.)
    She complained that Richardson Merrell's toxicity studies for thalidomide were so incomplete as to be meaningless.
    She discovered that Merrell had not notified the FDA of any adverse reactions even though the drug was sold in Germany with a label warning of side effects.
    She also noted that although thalidomide was to be used to treat morning sickness, none of its animal tests had used pregnant animals.
    She resisted pressure from Merrell representatives who complained to her supervisors and would show up at her office to protest the delays.
    She was vindicated when reports from Europe linked thalidomide to a wave of birth defects and infant deaths.
    She became the second woman to receive the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service (1962).
    The Washington Post wrote, 'Her skepticism and stubbornness prevented what could have been an appalling American tragedy.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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