We at NDSP are incredibly lucky to meet and interact with so many people with such a variety of life experiences, whether they’re living with disability or not! If you were to ask any of our staff, you might get the same kind of answer – it’s these people that keep us doing what we do.
One such person is Gail Harbott, Treasurer/Secretary for Gold Coast Disability Advocacy, MS Ambassador, Mobility Dogs NZ Ambassador, game day volunteer for Gold Coast Titans who also happens to be living with MS.
Please take the time to enjoy Gail’s story and if you find yourself in Gail’s shoes take note of her advice and positive outlook, it’ll make you smile…
Gail, please introduce yourself! My name is Gail Harbott, I am a 64-year-old lady living on the Gold Coast. My daughter Kate, her wife Keita and their 23-month-old daughter live just across the border in Chinderah, NSW. My son Mark, his partner Shauni and their 4-year-old son Dallas live close by in Pimpama, Qld. These 6 are the loves of my life.
We understand you are a native of New Zealand, but have spent some time working and living around the world – in fact a citizen of 3 countries. Can you share some of this part of your story with us? I was born in a small town in New Zealand. In my late teens I moved to Christchurch. I got married and had my two beautiful children. We had the opportunity to move to California USA to join a franchise business. Off we went with not a care in the world. We worked very hard and as the children were only little when we moved there, California was home to them. They did all their schooling there and became “little yanks” and to this day they still have very strong American accents.
We took Citizenship when we qualified. We overcame many challenges living so far away from family with 2 young ones. One thing that comes to the forefront in my mind is that in early September we travelled from San Francisco to West Virginia for business. On September 11th 2001 at 8.45am we boarded a flight in West Virginia to return back to California after a business trip – little did we know what was happening in the skies around us. We found ourselves grounded in Atlanta, Georgia with just the clothes we stood in for 5 days before we could get back to our children. But we were the lucky ones – many others did not make it home.
I became very unwell in 1996 and in September that year I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. We continued coping but in 2004 we moved back to New Zealand as my Multiple Sclerosis had progressed rapidly and was requiring the use of a wheelchair to maintain my independence. Back in Christchurch New Zealand I felt very relieved to have family and lifelong friends surrounding me for support.
This was pretty well short lived when the horrid earthquakes hit. Another major turmoil in my life made me make the decision to come to Gold Coast where my 2 children had moved to live a few years previous – having been brought up in California, they could not face the thought of living back in NZ so they came to Gold Coast to make their lives. I am now a very proud Australian, as my mother was from Sydney, so I am following in her footsteps.
Life before your diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in Sept 1996 sounds like a busy one! Can you give us some details on how your diagnosis impacted your life? I can clearly remember the day I was diagnosed with MS. I had no idea what MS was. I recall feeling a major relief when I was told I had this – at least I had an answer to why I was so ill. But then came the shock of what MS really was. Telling people what I had, and their responses was rather alarming – majority would say Oh you poor thing!
I remember attending a seminar run by a group of Neurologists in a town called Modesto CA. Upon entry into the auditorium I saw a row of wheelchairs in the front. Reality hit. I was very distressed and said I would never be in a wheelchair. I was doing the accounting for our businesses and had a life to live with my family. How was I going to keep going to achieve being a Mum and continuing to run our businesses?
I had many admissions to hospital with Relapses and spent many days in bed unable to function. I was determined to conquer this hideous disease, but it become more common for it to try to be the boss! As a Mum I carried a huge amount of guilt. I wanted to attend all their school concerts, baseball and softball games, birthday parties and graduations ceremonies. I wanted to make sure my children never suffered due to my health issues. Well I have been using a wheelchair for around 18 years now and without this, I would not have been able to have the extremely interesting journey I have been on. I look at my children now and see 2 really well grounded, inspirational, caring, empathetic adults.
Can you help us understand how you Manage your MS and what it means for you day to day? I took me a good 5 years to understand and accept that I have MS and it was not going away. It is a roller coaster ride living with MS. Not one day is the same. I have days that I cannot see. I have days that I cannot feel a thing in my body. I have days that I cannot stop the room from spinning. I have days that I cannot get out of bed. I have days that I cannot swallow well. I have days that I have pins and needles stabbing parts of my body.
I decided to take this hideous disease by the horns and roll with it. I came across these words and chose them to be my MOTTO – Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up AND Never Give Up. Do not get me wrong, MS gets a hold of me for some roller coaster rides and they are hard to get off.
I always snow skied when younger so decided to dabble in Disabled Snow Skiing at Mt Hutt in NZ – incredible is the only word I can use to describe it. Then came the challenge of Disabled Surfing – why not – so out I went, and I now follow my dream and attend once a month during summer the Disabled Surfing Gold Coast event. Talk about freedom – salt on your lips, waves rolling in and sand on your body!
And there are many more challenges ahead to enjoy and conquer. But at the same time MS rears its ugly head and also gives you a quick reminder that you are not invincible. I deal with my life day by day. I love to volunteer and help others – I am Treasurer/Secretary for Gold Coast Disability Advocacy, MS Ambassador, Mobility Dogs NZ Ambassador, game day volunteer for Gold Coast Titans.
Living with MS has meant you require support from the NDIS, can you share part of your NDIS journey – highs, lows, key moments? My dream is to stay living independently and allow my family to live their lives. After applying for the NDIS and being accepted, my life and my family’s lives have changed immensely.
I am now the Mum that they can visit and spend quality time with instead of them having to come to make meals, mow lawns, do gardens, clean pool and maintain my home. I get to go to the park and beach with my grandchildren.
Now NDIS does not just fall into your hands. You have a responsibility to gather all your information to present at your Planning Meeting. You need to produce reports from all areas of your specialist teams, Ot’s, Physios. The more detail you give to your Planner the more understanding they can use to make your Plan work for you. Do your homework. Gather people around you that know your situation and can support you on your journey.
I found a very important organisation for me was MS Queensland. They have an abundance of people who are trained and understand people living with MS. And they have done an incredible job on providing Paper and online information packs.
Have you got any advice for people looking to access the NDIS? Do your groundwork. Gather as many reports from your Medical team, Ot’s, Physios, specialists etc. The more you can have on paper to present at your Planning meeting the better. Remember – this is the first time this NDIS person will meet you and you have to give them the chance to understand the full picture of your disability.
Most importantly – list all your Goals for the next year in your life. Your goals are your wishes, dreams and needs. For anyone living with MS I would highly recommend calling MS Queensland. They have such numerous information and very well experience people that you can talk and meet with to make sure you are prepared well for this.
You’ve chosen for your NDIS Plan to be Plan Managed – Can you share your experience of Plan Management with us? Even though I have extensive experience in the Accounting Industry, I have chosen to use NDSP as my Plan Managers. I wish to be able to have support and advice on handling my Plan. I have used previous Plan Managers but once I commenced my journey with NDSP I have felt safer.
The customer service shown to me has been professional with well-trained personnel. If they cannot answer your query at that time, they will find someone to call you back with answers – always in a timely fashion.
My accounts are paid to my Providers in a timely fashion. The worry of paying the invoices has been removed from myself. My thoughts are when I am having a relapse and very ill are that I want my family able to focus on me, not having to spend time trying to sort out invoices and payments.
NDSP also have systems in place for Participants to log on to a very user-friendly portal where we can see all our up to date information on Invoices loaded/Paid, Budget Balances etc.
In summary, whilst the NDIS can be very daunting to many, preparation is your tool. Understand what you need and surround yourself with people that are knowledgeable.
Give NDSP a call and talk to them, you have nothing to lose. And I can guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.
NDSP is a NDIS registered provider specialising in NDIS Plan Management. If you are a NDIS Participant looking for the right Plan Manager, CLICK HERE to get in touch with our friendly team today.