Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder or COPD is a progressive disease that obstructs airflow and makes breathing difficult. Fortunately, doctors and patients now have an unexpected new tool for fighting this illness: the recorder.

Colleen Grabowski coordinates pulmonary rehabilitation classes at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital. One day she read an article about how harmonicas can help patients breathe better. She looked into getting harmonicas for the program, but learned they were too expensive.

Then, Grabowski came up with a simple, effective solution-- why not use recorders? She already knew how to play them from when she was in school, and they can be bought in bulk at low prices.

Playing wind instruments helps COPD patients strengthen and practice using their diaphragm. It’s similar to the common COPD exercise pursed lip breathing. And sound waves produced by instruments have been known to break up chunks of mucus in patient’s lungs. All these things work together to make playing the recorder a helpful COPD treatment.

And according to Grabowski, there’s another major advantage to using the recorder-- it’s fun. “We don’t care what we sound like, just that we play the recorders and have a great time,” she said in an interview. “It’s something patients look forward to doing.” Favorite songs include the classic hit Hot Cross Buns.

One of the patients, Janet Jones, says the recorder has improved her breathing, and she can now blow deeper and longer. She looks forward to completing the class and also to playing the recorder with her granddaughter.