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Colorado Patients Coping With COPD Hum On The Harmonica For Help

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - Last week Star Trek's Mr. Spock died of a disease many people probably never heard of -- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

The actor, Leonard Nimoy, was one of more than 11 million Americans suffering from the chronic lung disease. There is no cure for COPD, but some patients at a Colorado clinic have found that a certain type of music is good medicine.

The songs are familiar and the musicians focused. Every note is deliberate and every breath is key. They are the Harmonicats, and in their group, making music doesn't come easy.

Mattie has scarring in her lungs, and Dean had a double lung transplant. Tom is now battling lung cancer, and Sue has COPD, a group of lung conditions including emphysema.

"Wish I'd never taken that first cigarette," Sue Schmied said.

Schmied has struggled for nearly 20 years.

"It's very hard to breathe," she said.

Dr. Bill Vandivier directs the COPD clinic at the University of Colorado Hospital.

"In this country as many as 30 million people have it, but one of the problems is probably only half of those people know it," Vandivier said.

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(credit: CBS)

Treatments for COPD include rehabilitation, such as playing the harmonica.

"The harmonica playing is so good for our lungs, and not only just playing the harmonica -- but the laughing, the support we get from each another," Schmied said.

The Harmonicats are half musical group, half support group, but fully committed to breathing easier. They do some concerts, but mostly they play and laugh and leave feeling like, despite their lung issues, they can do anything.

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