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CO2 gas-powered artificial arms, Roehampton, England, 1963

A child born with very short upper limbs (phocomelia) due to Thalidomide used these CO2 gas-powered prostheses. The drug Thalidomide was given to pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s to ease morning sickness and aid sleep. It caused thousands of serious birth defects worldwide. Several hundred occurred in the UK. Babies were born with under-developed or missing limbs. The drug was withdrawn in 1962. These artificial arms were developed at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, made by artificial limb manufacturer Steeper. They replaced some of the child’s missing functions. They are manoeuvrable by a system of gas canisters attached to valves in the upper body casing. These are triggered by specific movements made with the upper body. Limbs such as these were worn for short, daily training periods until the child progressed to more sophisticated prostheses. Although an ingenious invention, they were ultimately a failure as few children chose to keep using the arms in the longer term.

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Glossary: prosthetic appliance

used to replace hands

Glossary: thalidomide

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