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How Music Eases Asthma

Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony have been working with doctors at the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center to help heal patients and their families.

But The Early Show National Correspondent Jon Frankel reports nobody expected the impact the music therapy would have on one very sick young man.

Music has always been known to comfort the soul. But for Brian Simpson, a severe asthma patient facing death, music has given him the greatest gift of all, the very breath of life.

Today, Simpson works at the same hospital in Pennsylvania where he spent most of the last 10 years as a patient.

Last year, Simpson was visited by a hospice team. The message from the doctors? "That I just needed to be comfortable and enjoy the time that I had," he says.

Simpson's family doctor Larry Sarginger says, ""Brian is probably the most difficult asthmatic I've ever had to take care of. Brian is asthmatic day in day out, never truly is 100 percent relieved of his asthma symptoms."

A year ago, Simpson hit rock bottom. He went into respiratory arrest and he had to be medevaced from the hospital in St. Mary's to a Pittsburgh regional medical center three hours away. Doctors stabilized him and sent him home, but the prognosis was grim."

Simpson's doctor' had exhausted every available medical option, even trying chemotherapy to help get oxygen into his diseased airways.

Unable to work, he spent most of his time in bed listening to music. His favorite, a CD recorded by Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida the Pittsburgh Symphony's principal oboist.

Koledo Dealmeida says, "If we put ourselves in his shoes, in bed told get comfortable and say your goodbyes, your life is over at 32, and for some reason, Mr. Locatelli gave him the spirit of living, even though he's a long gone composer. It has life in the music."

Koledo Dealmeida 's performance of Pietro Locatelli's sonata in G major became Simpson's lifeline. "When you feel like you're at rock bottom and that the only thing you can do is listen, it was really inspirational for me," he says.

It inspired him to pick up the oboe again, an instrument he had studied as a music major in college

Playing an instrument that seems to take an awful lot of energy - and breath- did not make much sense for Simpson, but he says, "At the time I really didn't have much to lose."

Simpson played the oboe out of a love for music. The miracle was that the more he played, the stronger his lungs got. First, he could play only for a minute, then two.

There is no scientific evidence for what was happening - so why the oboe and not a clarinet or French horn?

Maybe the reason Simpson got better is because the oboe's mouthpiece has a small opening - playing it means blowing against great resistance for long periods of time.

Koledo Dealmeida says, "You feel like you're suffocating but an oboist gets very strong at doing that and we use our abdominal muscles, too. That may have something to do with it, too."

Simpson never leaves home without his oxygen tank and still struggles to walk. But somehow, he's able to play the oboe two hours a day, perform with a local orchestra, and reduce his medication. His lung tests are dramatic proof he is getting better.

He says, "My volume is at 55 percent, up from 25."

Simpson is still a severe asthmatic who has to get by on half the amount of oxygen normal people get from every breath - but he's out of immediate danger.

Asked if he sees himself as a medical wonder? He says, "I see my self as someone that really didn't have any options, and now I'm here, and to me, I'm doing great."

The best news is that Simpson hasn't been back in the hospital in over a year. His dream is to use his experience to help the increasing number of kids with asthma. Doctors at the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Healthy Lifestyle program are already investigating the possibility of further study. They say there is enough evidence to move forward with this.