Pulmonary fibrosis clinicians, researchers and patients team up for Great West Run challenge

Members of the Royal Devon interstitial lung disease team

Members of the Royal Devon Interstitial Lung Disease team

George Vosper lives with pulmonary fibrosis – a little known but devastating lung disease which progressively scars the lungs making breathing increasingly difficult. It is deadly and there is no cure.  15 people die every day in the UK from pulmonary fibrosis. George describes it like living high on a mountain where the air is thin and the oxygen level low. Since his diagnosis in 2019, he has got used to experiencing breathlessness, coughing fits, tiredness, and a lack of concentration, as the low oxygen levels have affected his muscles, organs, and brain – yet he’ll soon be taking part in a special element of the Great West Run.

George, an Army veteran, developed pulmonary fibrosis as a complication of cancer treatment. He has remained positive despite his condition and has become an active member of the pulmonary fibrosis community raising awareness and funds. In 2022 George and his wife, Angela, raised £2500 for pulmonary fibrosis charities.

It is this community that is rallying together to tackle Exeter’s Great West Run this May, as healthcare professionals and researchers are teaming up for the half marathon challenge. When patients heard that clinical and academic staff were training for a half marathon to raise money for pulmonary fibrosis research, they were so touched that they decided to join – including one patient who will carry his own oxygen.

Dr Anna Duckworth, Professor Chris Scotton along with colleagues from the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust will be running the Great West Run half marathon on 21 May to raise awareness of the disease and money for the Exeter Patients in Collaboration (EPIC) for Pulmonary Fibrosis university charity and Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis, the UK’s largest charity linked to the condition.

George sees a specialist team at The Royal Devon and has become involved with EPIC, a research charity within the University of Exeter. The organisation was set up so that patients could work alongside researchers to jointly develop research priorities and improve outcomes. The research in Exeter includes many different lab projects, “big data” analysis including genetics and patient studies, all the way through to clinical trials. So EPIC’s input supports research that is looking to find novel diagnostics, treatments and ultimately a cure for the condition.

Dr Duckworth, of the University of Exeter, said: “This winter has been particularly hard. We’ve lost some dear patients and colleagues. Several of us have never run before, never mind running 13.1 miles, and we are all training through the months with patients in mind – we can get breathless for a while because they do that all the time.

“When we told the patients what we were planning, something that we weren’t expecting happened. Many were inspired at hearing that staff were offering to do this, and several of them have chosen to enter the Community Mile themselves, despite struggling to breathe!”

George said: “When we heard about this incredible thing the researchers are doing for us – on top of the amazing work they already do – a few of us decided to sign up for the Community Mile, which is no mean feat when you are living with pulmonary fibrosis.”

George will be joined by three other pulmonary fibrosis patients, one of whom will be completing the mile challenge with the aid of a walker, whilst carrying his oxygen. The team will also be joined on the day by Andy Bright from Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis, who himself received a life-saving double lung transplant in 2018 after his own pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis.

Philanthropic donations are vitally important to Health and Life Sciences research, enabling Exeter’s leading team of scientists to drive forward innovation and make advancements to health and patient care. If you are interested in supporting research into pulmonary fibrosis, contact Katie Burfitt – K.Burfitt@exeter.ac.uk.  

So far 28 healthcare professionals, researchers, patients and their families have signed up for the Great West Run specifically to raise awareness and funds for pulmonary fibrosis research. You can donate to EPIC research in Exeter or national research and support at Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis via the following JustGiving pages: