DETROIT - Bernard and Barbara Swanekamp have been married 56 years.
"He's my best friend," said Barbara.
But after a lifetime of smoking, Bernard is suffering from COPD and relies on an oxygen tank.
"It restricts my lungs. I don't like doing this, but if this is the way I have to live, then this is the way I have to live," said Bernard.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the United States. As the disease progresses, patients find it increasingly difficult to breathe and unable to clear the thick mucus that builds up in their chest.
That causes shortness of breath, discomfort and increases the risk of infections like pneumonia.
But Bernard has found relief from an unusual device.
It's called the Lung Flute.
"Usually I wind up in the hospital one or two times a year in the winter time. Last winter, there was nothing," said Bernard.
The Lung Flute was developed by an acoustic engineer. Patients are instructed to do about ten short breaths into the plastic horn, like they're blowing out a candle.
When patients blow into the Lung Flute, the reed inside flaps back and forth and sends vibrations into the airways. Those sound waves are enough to help break down the mucus.
"It helps with clearance of the mucus and essentially, then they feel better the rest of the day," said Dr. Sanjay Sethi, chief of pulmonary medicine at the University of Buffalo. "There were patients who would come to me all the time and they say, 'Listen, once I clear the mucus, I feel better.'"
Studies find using the Lung Flute twice a day improves COPD symptoms. It's potentially helpful for anyone who suffers mucus congestion from other respiratory problems too, including asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis.
It's not a crazy concept. Previous studies have found playing wind instruments can help improve lung function in teenagers who suffer from asthma. Researchers also found when wind musicians did suffer asthma attacks, they were less likely to panic.
The Lung Flute may not produce beautiful music, but it's struck a chord with Bernard and Barbara.
"It saves me a lot of trips to the hospital, I'll tell you that," said Bernard. "This thing has made a world of difference in my life. It really has."
"When he feels better, I feel better," said Barbara.
The Lung Flute has been approved by the FDA.
Patients need a prescription to get one. Insurance typically covers the cost, but out-of-pocket, the instrument and a six month supply of reeds is $50.
To learn more about the Lung Flute, click here. http://www.lungflute.com/patients.php
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