William (Billy) Birch was born with congenital hypothyroidism in 1944. Following Billy’s death in November 2018, his family donated Billy’s funeral collection to the BTF and shared details of his life with us.

Our brother Billy had the misfortune of being born with hypothyroidism before the introduction of routine blood tests (blood spot screening or heel prick test), which picks up this condition shortly after birth. As a consequence, his thyroid disorder remained undiagnosed throughout his childhood.

His symptoms were severe and persistent; his growth was restricted and his mental development was impaired. He was consigned to classes for what were then referred to as ‘backward children.’ Tragically, it was not until his early teenage years that Billy’s symptoms became so severe that he had to be admitted to hospital where he was diagnosed as hypothyroid and treated with the hormone, thyroxine, which he was unable to produce himself.

Although it was too late to reverse the negative effects of his condition on his mental and physical health, the treatment did lead to a rapid improvement in Billy’s health. He went from being unable to do much physical activity to running around bursting with energy. This really came home to us one day when he followed us up the apple tree in our back garden.  We recall his excitement and joy in his face as he made the assent the first time; to Billy it was his Everest.

Billy never blamed anyone for his condition and it didn’t prevent him from living his life very much on his own terms – he could be very stubborn!

Another major transformation in Billy’s life came when he began to attend a day centre in Southport in the early 1970s. With the support and encouragement of staff, Billy developed interests in cookery, pottery and writing.   

 Our brother also took a keen interest in current affairs, railways, science and technology and was especially interested in the NASA space programme. He followed their missions avidly on the internet and could be relied on to update us on their status at any time. As an acknowledgement to Billy’s interest in astronomy, his niece had a star named after him. We hope he might now meet his soul mate, Patrick Moore, and talk about the latest discoveries and future ambitions.

For more information about congenital hypothyroidism please see our resources on thyroid disorders in children

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