Karen Garloch

Charlotte lung disease group takes up the harmonica

Respiratory therapists often ask their patients to blow into a spirometer, a plastic device that measures lung function.

At this week’s meeting of Charlotte’s Better Breathers Support Group, members with lung disease will have a chance to blow into a different kind of instrument – the harmonica.

The activity is inspired by the “Pulmonica,” invented by a Sarasota, Fla., couple three years ago for a relative with emphysema. It’s a special pulmonary harmonica, made in Germany, that produces deep, resonant sounds that can be felt vibrating in the lungs and sinuses.

Because the Pulmonica costs about $100 on Amazon.com, the Charlotte support group will use less expensive instruments donated by Dr. Selwyn Spangenthal, a pulmonologist who hosts and provides lunch for the group’s monthly meetings. Friday’s meeting, open to anyone, is at 1 p.m. at Charlotte Lung and Health, 1918 Randolph Road, Suite 440.

Spangenthal, who only recently heard about Pulmonica, is eager to learn more. “This is something new,” he said. “I’m sure this is not going to be a panacea. But even if it’s not beneficial, I think it will be fun. And if they find that it’s useful, that’s good too.”

“No musical talent is needed,” said Connie Divel, who leads the support group for the American Lung Association. She’ll teach members to play several songs, including “Happy Birthday,” “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Most of the support group members have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and range in age from 50 to 90, Divel said. People with COPD tire easily and tend to isolate themselves because they may be tethered to oxygen tanks. “It’s very easy for people with COPD to get depressed,” Divel said. “We try to do something fun and active.”

Divel cited research done by Dr. William Weiss, a retired allergist who works with the Sarasota Senior Friendship Center and was asked by the inventors to evaluate the Pulmonica, which looks like a regular harmonica. He tested it with eight patients who have COPD and concluded that all improved on pulmonary function tests.

“Using the Pulmonica is like meditating,” said co-inventor Mary Lou Keller in a YouTube video. “It both relaxes you and energizes you. … Even if your hands are shaking and you can barely remember your name, you can play this instrument.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078