Treating lung disease with harmonicas

- 10-year-old Chloe Fernandez of New Jersey was diagnosed with chronic lung disease when she was six.

"It makes it very hard to breathe for me and sometimes I feel like my whole body is going to collapse and it feels horrible," Fernandez says.

Hospital visits and frequent use of her nebulizer are part of her treatment.. But about a year ago, the budding author, who recently wrote a book "PCD Had Nothing on Me,"  discovered something else to make her feel better: a harmonica.

Fernandez is a participant in Harmonicare, a weekly program at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey that teaches participants to play the harmonica to strengthen their lungs and which she says has helped her conditions.

"I used to take my machine three or four times a day, now I take it when I really actually need it, I don't take it as much," she says.

About 50 people of all ages and from all over the tri-state area have participated in the program since its inception a little over a year ago.

Volunteer instructor Jeff Bernstein of the Garden State Harmonica Club teaches participants how to play the songs. But whether they hit the notes or not, they get a workout for their lungs.

"With this you're blowing and drawing, you're inhaling and exhaling, which makes it perfect for COPD patients," Bernstein explained. "It's why they're here because it exercises their lungs, it increases their lung power."

"Coming to class they're actually kind of winded when they walk thorugh our doors," said Holy Name nurse manager and Harmonicare program director  Karine Shnorhokian. "A lot of them we have to transport by wheelchair, and on the way out they feel great, they feel much better because for an hour they were exercising their lungs.

Dorris Therbert suffers from COPD and says she's noticed a difference.

"I can sing again and I don't have the oxygen hunger I used to have," Therbert said.

Aside from the therapeutic value, there's something else that people love about this class: the sense of community.

"It's kind of like my extended grandparents, they're really suportive of me," Fernandez said. "If we mess up it's just like, 'Oh you messed up? I didn't even notice!'"

The Harmonicare program is free and so is the harmonica. Anyone with a chronic lung disease who wants to get involved can contact Holy Name Medical Center.
 

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