30 minutes with...Gerard Benedet - let us know what you think - Epilepsy Queensland

What is the title of your role?

Branch Director – Pharmacy Guild of Australia Queensland. It sounds fancy but it’s Pharmacy’s way of saying CEO.

Where do you currently work and how long have you been working there?

Pharmacy House is located in Spring Hill on the edge of the Brisbane CBD. I’ve been the Branch Director for just over six months. I was privileged to take on the role after the very successful tenure of Ms Robyn Ede after twenty-five years of dedicated service.

Where else have you worked in your life?

I’ve made a very conscious decision in my career to try different things, to continuously learn and to transfer skills and knowledge between industries. I’ve worked in Parliament House, Canberra for several Cabinet Ministers, at the National Rugby League in Sydney, been a Chief of Staff to a State Treasurer, worked for News Corporation and managed Government, Public Affairs and Marketing for a National VET training provider. I’ve consulted on different projects to the Business Council of Australia and Medicines Australia and most recently set up an organisation called Advance Australia, which I successfully moved out of its initial start-up phase when the Guild approached me to take on the Branch Director role, that I am currently enjoying.

What do you love about your job?

The diversity. I love roles which cover a range of tasks, skills and expertise – I like to be challenged and enjoy learning new things. At any one moment I could be dealing with a training matter, stock shortages from wholesalers, a member concern or the delivery of our conferences and events. The broader the role the better for me – I like to be kept on my toes.

How do community pharmacies support people living with epilepsy?

Community Pharmacies are a great source of information and guidance about different medications, how to take, prepare and use medicines safely, especially when people have complex conditions or are on multiple medications.

What is your personal connection to epilepsy?

My son was diagnosed with focal epilepsy when he was six months of age. My wife noticed a muscle tick above his right eye and took him to see our GP. I, of course, thought nothing of it. The GP said we should take him straight to the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, so we did. He was admitted immediately and the Doctors (all very excited to be capturing an EEG on a six-month-old), were brilliant and very understanding of two parents who had never had to deal with or had given much thought to epilepsy.

Our son was indeed having seizures and underwent numerous tests which revealed a small dysplasia of cells in his right frontal lobe. We decided to medicate him and for two years the treatment worked to limit the number and severity of seizures.

Actually, I’d just started a new job (with long hours and increased responsibility) when the medicated options ceased to work. We sought second, third and fourth opinions and they all led to surgery. So, on our son’s third birthday, after undergoing more scans, tests and a blessing he underwent five hours of brain surgery.

I am elated to report that since the surgery our son has been seizure-free. For us, its been our little miracle.

I know that our (because it was really my wife and I – a true team effort) journey is so different to that of so many other families. Despite our trials, our experience was relatively straight forward compared to that of other families, who continue to see loved ones suffer.

Special mention goes to Dr Kate Riney, who was spectacular through our consultations, decision making, surgery, post-op and discharge. A woman I will never forget and could never thank enough.

Where would you most like to travel?

I’d love to go back to America, get a hire car and drive across the country, taking in the various sights and sounds. America is maligned by some, but I’ve always found the people polite and interesting. Call me a studier of sociology or people watcher but I enjoy being able to engage with different people and understand their perspectives on the great events that form American history. I’d also love to be in Santa Clara, California for a 49ers home game!

What is your favourite food?

Has to be creamy Boysenberry Ice-Cream! A good steak finishes a very close second. I am easy to please!

Describe your most embarrassing moment?

We are all human! My most embarrassing moment was getting a golden duck (zero runs) as an opening batsman in my final game of first grade cricket in year twelve – it just happened to be the final as well. I was clean bowled, with all three stumps cartwheeling – not a good look or feeling!

What is your favourite book/author?

At the moment, it would be ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek. For leaders, it’s a great way to drive clarity in complex and fast-paced environments.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met? Or who would you like to meet?

Former Prime Minister the Hon John Howard. I would love to have met Winston Churchill and Captain James Cook – two men whose unique yet very different styles had an enormous impact on our livelihoods and western civilization.

What genres of music do you like listening to/favourite song?

Honestly, it depends on my mood. When I am on my road bike, I love to listen to Australian Rock and sing along every so often. When I am writing board papers or finalizing documents I enjoy listening to classical music, baroque is best. My favourite song at the moment is Tucker’s Daughter – the Ian Moss version.

Do you have any interesting hobbies you would like to tell us about?

Nothing out of the ordinary, I like poking around in the vegetable garden. With four kids, I am kept plenty busy around the house or playing sport, hide and seek or the latest game that comes home from school. I do enjoy getting on my road bike to clear my mind.

What do you feel would greatly improve epilepsy care currently in Queensland?

Firstly, I’d like to know more, what are the challenges that need to be solved, before offering advice. But in the quick little piece of research I did, greater support for families and Epilepsy Queensland could be a great starting point. I am a big fan of active industry or community organisations, it’s what helps build and maintain a caring society.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies are very much on the frontline. Do you have any helpful messages for people living with epilepsy during this time?

It’s true, our Members have been on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be it the run on prescriptions, the demand for masks, hand sanitizer and flu vaccinations, our members have been open and accessible. While we’ve had a few scares in Qld, Pharmacies have been hugely successful at putting in place infection control measures and continued to serve the community.

Social distancing is here to help you. Studies from overseas clearly show that people with complex conditions or comorbidities are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19. The intensive care statistics out of places like New York and London are frightening. In New York, one study had the mortality of patients placed on a ventilator at over 70%, in Australia, it’s under 25%, so we must be doing something right. I would strongly urge you to continue to follow the social distancing rule, despite the hardship that comes with them, they are saving lives.

Ask don’t guess. It’s a simple message but its power is in knowing. Medicines and medications can take on very different behaviours under different circumstances. Community Pharmacy is here to help, if you have a question, ask and your local Community Pharmacist will be able to provide you with the answer.

Epilepsy Queensland