Harmonicas Help Patients Breathe Easy

Thursday, October 28, 2010 - 10:23am

Pediatric patients have musical fun strengthening their lungs.

Pediatric patients at Baltimore's Sinai Hospital are getting a boost in their recovery through a new program that's helping them breathe better in a fun way.

Since July, respiratory therapists have been using harmonicas in the pediatric ward at the hospital to help patients improve their breathing.

"We thought maybe this would be something fun for them to do, then hopefully it would maybe help them as far as their lung disease," said Ann Ludwig, the hospital's education performance improvement coordinator.

It was an idea sparked by musician Buddy Wakefield, who said he'd used the harp with his brother who had Parkinson's disease.

Wakefield said he discovered that the harmonica helped with pursing lips and diaphragmatic breathing.

The therapy is working for many patients, including those who have asthma, pneumonia and others who need post-operative therapy, the hospital said.

"It helps me to breathe better. It helps my lungs open up," said 11-year-old asthma sufferer Tynell Gant.

"It's hard sometimes to get them to cough, so the harmonica will help them to cough, which helps improve their lung function," said Sinai nurse Michele Clark.

Therapy doctors said learning how to play is easy.

The children are given their own harmonica with a book filled with children's songs, and using a four-count, they're taught to play.

It's also a simple way for parents to know their children are breathing right at home.

"Now that I know the importance of the harmonica ... I'm encouraging my son to keep doing it," said parent Jesse Carter, whose son, Jesse, also has asthma.

The hospital said the program is going so well that it's looking to expand it to long-term care patients and possibly a future amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, program.

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