Seniors with pulmonary illness learn music, lung control in University Hospitals harmonica class

CHARDON, Ohio-- Pushing through discomfort, a group of seniors battling severe pulmonary illness are learning to play the harmonica.

"Playing the harmonica involves controlling your lungs and this is a major thing for people with lung disease, especially when their capacity is much less," explained Bob Rosneck, a pulmonary rehab coordinator at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center.

The University Hospitals music therapy session is about more than finding a rhythm, it's teaching participants to regain some control of their lungs.

"I have COPD and it's helping me to breathe, to learn how to inhale to exhale, you know things that people take for granted," Donald Frost said.

The class of senior citizens said they receive a new song to learn each week.

"I look forward to it coming here and I feel better when I leave," Gene Griewisch said.

"It brings them a peace, brings them calm, gives them the ability to be in control," said Forrest Paquin, a board-certified music therapist.

Several of the participants in attendance have never played an instrument, but said they feel stronger with each session.

"The breathing is good exercise," Nancy Kotowski said. "I have COPD and I have to be on oxygen 24 hours a day."

"I have never played a harmonica," said Patricia Kovach, who also uses oxygen to help with her breathing. "I thought, you got to be kidding, but as soon as he mentioned it I said, 'OK, I'm game. Let's do it' and I love it."

Rosneck took the lead on harmonica during the class while Paquin played the guitar and led the class singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads."

"I'm still here because many people, at this point, as long as I've had it, have had lung transplants," Kovach said. "I am blessed that has not happened. I've had several surgeries. I've come out of them. I had a stroke two years ago, I came out of it. That's a blessing."

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