In June 2017, at 82 years old, Dave Teslow decided to join a band. Kind of.

Dave developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) three years prior. He began seeing a pulmonologist at Methodist Hospital. There, he also met Kris Mrosak, the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Manager. She told Dave about her idea to start a new program that would use harmonicas in pulmonary rehabilitation to help patients improve their breath, anxiety and mood. The COPD Foundation’s Harmonicas for Health initiative would supply plastic instruments to get the program started.

While a bit skeptical, Dave agreed to give it a shot.

“I can’t say I was excited about it,” he laughed, recalling his first reaction to the idea. “But Kris has always been great to work with so I decided I'd try it out. I’ve ended up enjoying it and benefiting quite a bit.”

Mrosak began planning a four-week pilot program and recruiting patients through word of mouth to take part in it. Her goal was to recruit 10 volunteers with various types of lung conditions. But much to her surprise, she doubled that number and 20 patients (including Dave) joined in.

Over the next four weeks, the group gathered for weekly sessions. At each one, a music therapist led them in rehab exercises that were interwoven with learning how to play the harmonica. As group members practiced each new song, they worked on using different muscles to inhale or exhale – depending on the note.

“It’s been really helpful for me,” Dave said. “I’d get done playing one of the songs and I’d be exhausted, but I could feel a difference in my breathing.”

The response from other members of the pilot group was positive, too. They were surveyed from week one through week four about their breathing, anxiety and mood. And across the board, breathlessness and anxiety dropped, while mood picked up. They liked being part of the new program because it was exciting and fun, they said.

“It’s something that anyone can do,” Dave said. “It’s relatively easy to learn. Plus, the people in the program have been great. It’s given me something to keep my brain focused, too.”

The initial trial period was so successful that the program has continued thanks to a generous donation through the Park Nicollet Foundation. That’s helped cover supplies, room rentals and staffing. And participants have even been able to switch over to real, metal harmonicas.

As of June 2018, the program has seen more than 30 participants. There are new patient classes held every other month, which allows patients of all abilities to be part of the group. They even have occasional open rehearsals in the Methodist Hospital lobby, where others can stop by to listen.

As for Dave, he has no plans of slowing down on his harmonica playing anytime soon.

“It’s something that has allowed me to stay busy, make friends and improve my breathing,” he said. “I can’t ask for more than that.”