Skin cancer trial gives lung transplant recipient renewed optimism

Giving up isn’t a concept Paul Beard is familiar with. That drive and determination has not only helped the 63-year-old represent Australia in several sports on the world stage, it’s also been instrumental in helping him through one of the darkest periods of his life.  

Paul had always been athletic. A born swimmer with a love for the sea, he made the state swim team in his youth and spent most of his free time on, in, or under the water. This passion for fitness stayed with him into his adulthood, and even into his 50s he was able to keep up with the younger members of his running group – until everything suddenly changed.   

“I was on one of my regular runs with the guys and getting absolutely flogged. I just had no gas in the tank and couldn’t catch my breath. It felt like more than just an off day, so I went to see my doctor who chalked it up as asthma, wrote me a script for an inhaler, and sent me on my way.”

Chronic lung disease a shock diagnosis

After taking Ventolin for two years and seeing no improvements, Paul visited a specialist who diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a serious, chronic lung disease with a life expectancy of less than five years.    

“It was a devastating blow. I’d suspected it was more than just asthma, but I never expected it to be as bad as it was. In an instant I went from worrying about when my fitness would recover to considering what my family will do when I’m gone.”   

Fortunately, Paul was offered a literal lifeline in the form of a double lung transplant: a rare and difficult procedure that comes with a raft of complications. The initial operation was a success and, helped by his healthy living and clean eating, Paul was released from hospital in just nine days – an impressive feat, particularly accounting for the fact that he’d also undergone a triple heart bypass at the same time.

New lungs bring new opportunities on the world stage

Paul’s fresh lungs gave him a new lease on life and gradually he found his fitness returning. He’s since become involved in the World Transplant Games, which showcases the athletic abilities of organ recipients. Paul has represented Australia in pétanque and swimming, in which he won a bronze medal in the 50-metre breaststroke.  

The World Transplant Games helped Paul find a renewed love of fitness and build close friendships with other organ recipients from all over the world. Those connections and shared experiences have been powerful motivators for keeping his spirits up when dealing with the many challenges that have followed his transplant.   

Donate to clinical trials to help patients like Paul

Skin cancer a nasty side effect of immunosuppressants

“Since my operation I’ve been on a cocktail of drugs to keep me healthy – each with their own nasty side effects. My skin and hair are wrecked, I’ve had a cornea transplant due to cataracts, and, because of the immunosuppressants I’m on, I developed some nasty skin cancers.”  

Because solid organ transplant patients are considered high risk, effective treatments to stop the onset of new skin cancers are not implemented. The SiroSkin trial coordinated by Melanoma and Skin Cancer Research Centre and led by Prof Kiarash Khosrotehrani hopes to ease the burden of skin cancers on organ transplant recipients. The clinical trial is investigating whether a topical cream can reduce the number of facial skin cancers – squamous cell carcinomas – in solid organ recipients. The multi-site trial aims to study around 150 patients across Australia.

Clinical trial offers hope to address skin cancers

After undergoing several surgeries to remove skin cancers, including one that had buried itself in his skull, Paul’s specialist suggested he join the SiroSkin trial – an opportunity Paul seized with both hands.

“Ever since my diagnosis, I’d been asking about new drugs and trials I could join. Anything that can help my recovery while also advancing treatment options for future organ transplant recipients is a win-win, so I didn’t think twice.”

“SiroSkin is a double-blind trial, so I don’t know if I am applying the treatment or a placebo, but I’ve noticed a huge improvement. Within two weeks of applying the cream, I had some spots on my face go down and I generally feel a lot better. That’s given me renewed optimism and I’m not about to waste it.”

Positivity and hope the key to recovery

Paul believes that positivity and hope has been a key part of his recovery. He now shares encouraging words and advice with other recipients and walks regularly with a transplant group designed to raise awareness and allow the public to ask questions. Paul is doing everything in his power to ensure no one feels alone on the difficult journey of being an organ recipient.

With the 2025 Dresden World Transplant Games just over a year away, Paul’s focussed on building his fitness even more and spending as much quality time with his family as possible.

“My family are my biggest motivators. I want to be with my wife as we see our two boys grow up. Thanks to modern medicine and clinical trials, I have a real shot at that – and I’ll never take that for granted.”  

Learn more about the SiroSkin trial.

Donate to clinical trials to help patients like Paul