Thursday, September 4, 2014

Harmonica class breathes new life into rehab

** Update, Oct. 7: As the Harmonica Therapy class grows, organizers have moved it to two sessions on Tuesdays: 1 p.m. for beginners and 2:15 p.m. for advanced students. The classes are now held in the third floor classroom at Wheeler Heart and Vascular Center. Registration is requested at 269-5506 -- Ed.

On Tuesday afternoons, there’s a new kind of therapy tuning up in the community room at Wheeler Heart and Vascular Center. Each week, dozens of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and cardiac conditions are improving their breathing with an unlikely tool: the harmonica.

“I just turned 83 and I have other health issues, but the most important thing is the ability to breathe,” says patient Archie Jones. “Anything that can help me breathe better is going to increase my quality of life, and that’s what it’s all about.”

In its first week in July, the class drew enough patients to overflow Wheeler’s third floor classroom. Organizer Glenda Miller secured the larger community room and she’s ready for the program to grow. “Our goal is to have to use Foster Auditorium!”

Using a harmonica helps loosen congestion and promotes diaphragmatic breathing and it can be a real benefit for any patients who have chronic lung conditions or who are in cardiac rehab. And, Glenda says, the classes are an important social gathering for patients.

“They’re having fun, they’re laughing,” she says. “One of the participants told me, ‘This is the neatest thing since Christmas!’”

The classes offer a chance to meet others dealing with the same issues and to ask questions of staff members. Those opportunities directly address two of the major issues in chronic disease management: depression and taking medication correctly.

“This is a way to invite people into our system and build relationships,” says Glenda, coordinator, Center for Health Improvement, Cardiovascular Services. “Our team has been able to answer health questions and identify resources within our system and community.”

Glenda and Carolyn Beard, assistant nurse manager in Cardiopulmonary Rehab, got the idea last year when they attended a presentation on harmonica therapy at a conference for cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. Glenda thought to herself, “We can do this.”

At an orthopedic reunion last fall, Glenda asked if anyone played harmonica. In the front row was Frank Preston (above), who had been a patient years ago with Carolyn at Cox Monett. Frank has been playing harmonica since his teenage years and he jumped at the chance to help.

“It’s exciting for me. I always wondered why I learned to play the harmonica, now I know!” he says. “It’s so much fun to get everyone blowing in their harmonicas and getting the noise going. I enjoy this opportunity I’ve been given to help people.”

Frank can tell each week how much the participants have been practicing. And Carolyn and Glenda say they’re hearing more and more interest in the class.

“We have a ton of people with COPD,” Carolyn says. “We can’t always talk people into doing rehab, but this is an easier sell.”

Glenda says she’s hoping to expand the program to multiple sites around the area. After all, it’s therapy that’s portable, requiring only a harmonica and an instructor.

In the meantime, Frank has the class working on their first songs. He says the group will know a few songs by Christmas, when Glenda hopes to bring the group to perform at Hulston Cancer Center.

And Frank’s dreaming beyond that performance as well: “Who knows, by next year, we may be able to be on stage in Branson!”