Natalie Gauld: trailblazer hitting the cycle trails
1 March 2023
A pharmacy change-maker is raising awareness and funds for motor neurone disease and having as much fun as she can along the way.
Dr Natalie Gauld pedals her electric all-terrain three-wheeler from Epsom to the University’s Grafton campus for her UniNews interview, sporting a high-vis vest and helmet.
Since the honorary senior lecturer in pharmacy and paediatrics senior research fellow received her life-changing diagnosis of motor neurone disease in March 2022, Natalie’s goal has been to have as much fun as possible.
In the first three weeks of 2023, she and husband Matt rode 500km of cycle trails in the South Island, combining a pastime they both enjoy with raising funds for Motor Neurone Disease New Zealand (MND).
“I don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue riding. So I wanted to make the most of it. I thought, this way I can raise awareness, raise funds and help the organisation I know is going to help me,” Natalie says.
Natalie came across her mode of transport, the Motom, in August 2022. It was designed by University of Auckland Bachelor of Engineering graduate Andrew Nash, who himself has a disability.
“I said to him, ‘I’d actually like it more if it had pedals.’ And he said, ‘Well I’ve been thinking about that.’ It took two weeks and he put the pedals on and they’re awesome.”
While a dearth of information about accessibility was a challenge on the cycle trails, she says it was all worth it.
“The highlight has been having a great big smile on the face every day,” Natalie says.
This way I can raise awareness, raise funds and help the organisation I know is going to help me.
Another highpoint was encountering a weka on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
“I saw the bird, which was quite a way away, and stopped. It saw me and thought ‘this is interesting,’ and came over and had a good look. It was really nice; the weka was at least as curious about the Motom as I was about the weka.”
Another highlight was being joined by pharmacist friends on the trails.
Connecting with people has been important to Natalie, knowing they will be there for a cup of tea in the future.
Natalie has a slow-progressing form of the neurological degenerative disease, which progressively damages the nervous system.
She says the diagnosis has helped her to appreciate the little things in life.
“That might be things like, we’ll start a Saturday or Sunday with Mexican scrambled eggs that we make at home, a pot of plunger coffee and the cryptic crossword. It’s just about enjoying the stuff that you can enjoy.”
This attitude of enthusiastically focusing on what you can do rather than what you cannot underpins Natalie’s recognition in this year’s New Year Honours.
Natalie has led a huge catalogue of drug reclassifications in collaboration with primary care organisations, government and fellow researchers. These include Sildenafil (Viagra or Silvasta), melatonin for over 55s, oral contraceptives, and certain vaccines.
“I’ve focused on making medicines accessible for New Zealanders where appropriate and that’s meant a lot of work on the Medicines Classification Committee, and collaborating with others to drive reclassifications and research. Pharmacy also stepped up to the challenge. Along the way we became a world leader in reclassification, with interest from other countries in what we were doing.”
It’s just about enjoying the stuff that you can enjoy. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue riding. So I wanted to make the most of it.
Asked what her day jobs are, Natalie ticks off a number of innovative projects.
“I’ve been doing some work for Te Whatu Ora in Counties Manukau around gout, including organising bespoke software to improve communication from the pharmacy to the GP, as well as texting patients to return for their serum urate tests.
“I’ve also worked with pharmacies in Counties Manukau to increase their proactivity with MMR vaccinations (measles mumps and rubella) and vaccinations in pregnancy.”
She worked with the University’s Professor Cameron Grant, Dr Anna Howe and Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris on research into providing vaccinations through pharmacies for expectant mothers.
Natalie is currently evaluating a pilot of midwife-prescribed, pharmacist-administered anti-D immunoglobulin to pregnant women who are Rh-negative to prevent Rhesus disease.
“We did something really different with the model of delivery. I’ve been unable to find any examples from developed countries of community pharmacies offering blood products.”
She is also working on a project with Professor Ed Gane and Dr Geoff Noller on a study to assess the rates of hepatitis C in needle users.
“I’m about to finish up on hepatitis C, just to reduce my hours, but we also set up a pharmacy test-and-treat model, which was unusual.”
Natalie has reduced her commitments to look after her health. That’s where the MND New Zealand support staff have been ‘awesome’.
“When I needed to see an occupational therapist, it wasn’t happening in a hurry. I was thinking, ‘I really need to see somebody to make decisions about the house.’ The support worker was able to say, ‘You need to bump this person up the list. That was so helpful.”
MND NZ provides advocacy and a registry to help MND sufferers now and in the future.
At the time of writing, Natalie had raised more than $12,000 for MND NZ, towards a goal of $15,000.
“My sister is coming out from the UK for March and April. For our last ride for the fundraising, we are planning to do the Karangahake Gorge but might have to reassess that since the cyclone.
“I’m borrowing another Motom for my mum who’s going to do it with us.”
Story by Jodi Yeats
* If you would like to get involved, either riding or donating, keep an eye on Natalie’s blogs and fundraising page: mnd-new-zealand-fundraise.raisely.com/natalie-gauld
This story first appeared in the March 2023 issue of UniNews.