Thalidomide in the USA: the Forgotten Survivors

"It's time to let the world know we do exist ... the US did not escape the thalidomide tragedy; it just got forgotten."

This documentary with first-ever seen footage, by and about United States thalidomide survivors, chronicles their decades-long journey to find the truth about distribution of the drug in the US, and its devastating effects. Born with multiple limb anomalies, as well as, often, internal damage or damage to the eyes and ears, US survivors struggled uphill to find the facts, each "individual souls, in this vast country, trying to each separately make our way in a sea of misinformation." It explores an apparent news story that has hovered under the radar of public awareness now for 60 years.

For the audience that thinks thalidomide had never been available in the USA, this is a must-watch. The film follows 10 individuals with thalidomide injuries, who meet for the first time in their late 50s, and convene in San Diego for a 2019 conference to "uncover the lie, and share the outrage," as well as some tears, and more than a few laughs. Features historical background by author and researcher, Jennifer Vanderbes, as well as the scientific expertise of Neil Vargesson, and the music of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

It is the public Producer/Director debut for C. Jean Grover, herself a thalidomide survivor. Also debuting as Associate Producers: Andrew Penner and Yasin Daulat.

  • C. Jean Grover
  • C. Jean Grover
  • C. Jean Grover
  • Andrew J. Penner
  • Yasin Daulat-Mohammed
  • Gwen Riechmann
    Key Cast
  • Darren Griggs
    Key Cast
  • JoJo Calora
    Key Cast
  • Kimberly Firestone Arndt
    Key Cast
  • Eileen Cronin, PhD
    Key Cast
  • Dorothy Hunt-Honsinger
    Key Cast
  • Carolyn Farmer Sampson
    Key Cast
  • C. Jean Grover
    Key Cast
  • Jennifer Vanderbes
    Key Cast
  • Jane Gibbons
    Key Cast
  • Neil Vargesson, PhD
    Key Cast
  • Leslie Klein Mink
    Key Cast
  • Jeff Green
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Documentary, Science, Medicine, Health
  • Runtime:
    39 minutes 44 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    August 22, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    1,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • La Jolla, California
    United States
    December 19, 2021
    World premiere
    Official Selection, Best Shorts Competition
Distribution Information
  • US Thalidomide Survivors
    Country: United States
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - C. Jean Grover

C. Jean Grover, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio - which she would later come to know as the hub of thalidomide distribution in the US - is a graphic designer, marketer, and filmmaker. In the Rochester, NY area, she is the Communications Director for a not-for-profit by day; but in her spare time, she serves on the board and as Communications Director of US Thalidomide Survivors. This 501(c)3 entity has a mission to promote public awareness, advocacy, information exchange, and support for survivors in the United States.

Seeing the need to bring to light the true US thalidomide story, she embarked upon this film wholeheartedly, and with no budget. Born, herself, with all four limbs affected by thalidomide, she was quickly struck by the depth of devastation this drug had caused in our country, not just for her, but for others she met for the first time in the past few years; some born in the same year as she had been, in the same city and even in the same hospital, with strikingly similar limb loss, but never with an opportunity to meet until now.

She has spoken with fellow survivors from across the country who live at the poverty level, many unable to afford disability-related medical services that are not covered by insurances. Across the board, survivors live with mounting medical and disability-related debt, and most never received compensation for their injuries caused by in-utero thalidomide exposure.

Jean collaborated on this project with her sons, Andrew Penner, Director of Photography and Associate Producer, and Jake Penner, musical composer.

Professionally, Jean has won several awards in the Rochester area, including an RCTV “Creative Use of Media” award, and an Excellence in Broadcasting award from the NYS Broadcasters Association. In 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, she won Pinnacle Awards from the American Marketing Association, and in 2021 and 2022, Non-Profit Marketer of the Year.

Jean is mom to 3 grown children and one teenager.

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Director Statement

While most developed nations have provided assistance to their survivors of thalidomide, the US has not even acknowledged the reach of thalidomide here, let alone provided assistance to our survivors -- who, for all intents and purposes, have been completely written out of the historical narrative of the United States.