COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Music to maximize the lungs. That’s the idea behind Harmonicas for Health.

The nationwide program-- created by respiratory therapists with the COPD Foundation-- teaches patients to mimic pursed-lip breathing, which helps ease the stress of the discomfort they feel when exhaling.

Dr. Erin Hays with Lexington Medical center says COPD is the third leading cause of death in South Carolina, and effects up to 15 percent of the adult population.

“It helps in several ways, it helps build up their breathing muscle strength. It helps them get rid of all the access flehm, and helps them cough and clear their airways much more effectively. It also allows patients to mix and mingle with a support group of individuals who have similar issues that they do,” says Dr. Hays.

The group at Lexington Medical Center started meeting about 6 years ago—and took a slight pause during the pandemic

Natalie Ashnefelter found out about her COPD diagnoses a few years ago.

“They mentioned it and I said hmm I used to have a harmonica as a child—I’ll try it. And sure enough it works—it really does. And you have the support of other people too. Not just the therapist, but the other patients, we support each other,” says Ashenfelter.

Samara Hart is a respiratory therapist at the hospital who says the social aspects of the bi weekly meetings are needed.

“I think they build life long friendships and have a great time. They become social butterflies, which is part of the whole process. We want them to be more attuned with being out and being with people. Because a lot of times the stigma of having oxygen or having lung disease and therefore maybe some extra coughing—folks tend to shy away from activity and being out in public so they find comradery in that.”

And although these patients share a life long challenge---one things for sure---the smiles and laughter are contagious.

Hart says being diagnosed with COPD doesn’t mean one can’t live a full life.

“We have a really strong team of people that work with patients. And they’re not just patients to us. Come learn what you need to learn. COPD doesn’t have to be a final type of sentence. It’s a life sentence in a sense, but it doesn’t have to be something that completely limits your abilities to function and thrive.”

If you or a loved one would like to join the Harmonicas for Health program at Lexington Medical Center, the group meets twice a month at the hospitals main campus.

To RSVP call  (803) 935-8260

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