mark ashford 2
mark ashford 2
22 Jan



Christopher Headey, a 24-year old lawyer, is the deserving 2023 recipient of the CFNZ Mark Ashford Scholarship. Born in the UK, Christopher’s family arrived in NZ in 2006, settling in New Plymouth. He attended Waikato University, and now lives and works in Christchurch. In his final year at university, Chris achieved A grades across all his results with an 87% average. Chris said, “At Waikato University I studied Law and completed my degree in December 2021. I started at Anderson Lloyd in Christchurch the following January working in commercial disputes.”


“At high school, I was never that amazing at maths or science, but I was always literature focused and took part in lots of speech competitions. I got the opportunity to take part in mooting which is a mock court hearing competing at a national level. We did really well, and I enjoyed being involved. This was my intro to the law. I always knew that I would work around people and have a literacy-based job. The mooting gave me an experience that directed me towards law and by year 13, law aligned with what I was good at and my extracurricular activities.”

Unfortunately Chris’ health was starting to decline but he was not yet diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He recalled, “My health meant that I wasn’t able to be as involved as much as I’d have liked. In hindsight, I can see that it was around that time in my teens that my main symptoms started but previously there had been nothing seemingly out of the ordinary health-wise when I was growing up.”


Chris was not diagnosed via a heel prick test like most people with CF. He said, “In the UK they did not have standardised testing for CF when I was born so I flew under the radar. I can look back now and think certain things make sense. When I was younger I would complain of chest pain, was very thin and would cough up sputum. Then in 2015, I got glandular fever and from there everything started to fall apart.” Chris’ family assume the glandular fever caused the sudden decline, and he then suffered from eight months of chest infections.

Finally after a referral to a specialist he ended up doing a sweat test which showed cystic fibrosis was likely. Following a blood test, the results were confirmed. Chris said, “I remember my mum getting that phone call, the look on her face and the conversation we had later. It was May 2016 so I was almost 16 years old. From there it was a whirlwind experience. I was very quickly taken up to Starship for treatment and given an intensive programme of education on CF - this is what it means, this is what to do. The IV antibiotics cleared up my infection. My family had basically never heard of CF before, so it was a tough time for all of us.”


Chris’ induction into the world of CF was tough, learning and adjusting to treatments as a teen rather than from birth as is the case for most people with CF. His treatments were chest physio, IV antibiotics and creon, but a new treatment was just around the corner. “I had a few hospital admissions during high school but once I was at uni my health got worse and I got sicker. I ended up having 22 months of intensive antibiotics and that is the reason I now wear glasses as the drugs damaged my eyesight and my liver. So I was treading water and on a downward trajectory. Definitely, during the first two years of starting uni, it felt like there was no good news. In 2020, Kalydeco became available to people like me with a Class III gene mutation, so I was able to start on the drug just as we went into Covid-19 lockdown.” he said.

Like many on CFTR modulator treatments, Chris found the improvements life-changing, “It’s very hard to put into words. I am now at 101% lung function, I have very little wrong with me. My management of CF now has gone from a dominating part of my life to a small factor of each day. The mental and physical difference is enormous. Naturally, being healthier and having that weight off my shoulders put me in a better position to achieve.” A few years later, now with Trikafta available to those who are eligible in NZ, he’s pleased that now more Kiwis with CF can have the benefits of modulator treatments. Chris said, “There will be so many kids and adults who will now relate to the experience I've described rather than the 30-odd of us who were able to take Kalydeco. It’s enormous. It’s such a complicated, wonderful and confusing but fantastic thing. I will probably move to Trikafta at some time this year. It will be interesting to see if I feel any difference or feel even better.”


Chris thought that because he’d finished university he wouldn’t qualify for the Mark Ashford Scholarship this year. “Lizzie at CFNZ confirmed that I could apply and encouraged me to do so as I had just completed my 18-week Professional Legal Studies Course, which I did alongside my full-time work,” said Chris. He was at work the day he got the news that he'd won the scholarship. He recalled, “It’s always lovely to receive good news like that. You never go in expecting things. I walked home from work and phoned my mum as she talked about her day and at the end of the conversation I told her. She was delighted as any mum would be. It’s always nice to have recognition of an achievement, especially for an achievement that I’ve worked hard for from my own merits.

I find it hard to allow myself the time or mental real estate to say well done you. You did alright.” Chris has some exciting but unusual plans for the award money, “My uni mates and I have been talking about doing the Mongol Rally, a race from London to Mongolia in sub 1000cc cars for years. We’re now planning on doing it in 2025 so I’ve put the money away to help me fly over to the UK and buy a crappy car for the race.”

When asked if he would encourage others to apply he said, “My advice would be to absolutely do it. Even if you aren’t successful, I think it’s a really good way to put down your achievement on paper. No matter the outcome it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on the positive things you have done and the achievements you may not otherwise celebrate. You don’t need to be defined by your illness but there is a lot to be said for achieving in the face of adversity. When I take a step back and look where I am, it’s nice to be able to look back and reflect and say that now this is where I am and where I want to be.”

Thank you Terra for generously sponsoring the 2023 Mark Ashford Scholarship.

We are extremely grateful for your support.

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