A fresh breath for COPD sufferers

COPD is the third most common cause of death in the U.S., and as the disease progresses it can do irreversible damage to patients’ lungs. Doctors have a new instrument, the lung flute, to help people like Bernard Swanekamp who suffer from the chronic disease.

After being married for 56 years, Bernard and Barbara Swanekamp have nearly a lifetime worth of memories together.

Barbara Swanekamp refers to her husband as, “my best friend." But after a lifetime of smoking, her husband Bernard has COPD, a chronic lung disease.

"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,” says Bernard. Life for the Swanekamps has been made easier over the past year thanks to the lung flute.

Bernard has really noticed a change, "Usually I wind up in the hospital one or two times a year in the winter time. Last winter, there was nothing" he says.

Some sufferers of COPD have excess mucus in their lungs, when they blow into the flute sound waves are sent down the airways and mobilize that built-up mucus. Studies show that using the lung flute twice a day can improve lung congestion and other COPD symptoms.

According to Dr. Sanjay Sethi, a professor and Chief of Pulmonary at the University of Buffalo says that in clearing out the mucus, the lung flute essentially helps patients feel better the rest of the day. It may also help protect against potentially fatal respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.

"There were patients who would come to me all the time and they say, 'Listen, once I clear the mucus, I feel better’” Dr. Sethi says.

Bernard relies on the flute, saying "It saves me a lot of trips to the hospital, I'll tell you that. This thing has made a world of difference in my life. It really has." In making Bernard feel better, the flute makes his wife feel better too.

The lung flute is FDA-approved and insurance typically covers the cost, but paying out of pocket is possible and would cost patients about $50 for a six-month supply of reeds. All COPD patients need is a doctor’s prescription to get their own lung flute.

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