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If you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to play the tuba

It may seem obvious, but “if you can’t breathe, you’re not going to able to play the tuba very effectively,” said Brendan Bohnhorst, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. 

Brendan would know. Diagnosed with asthma when he was about 9 years old, he always kept a rescue inhaler in his backpack during school, and later in his tuba case during college, knowing he would need it to get his breath back if he felt an asthma attack coming on.

He never let his asthma stop him from trying new things. “I’m pretty stubborn” he admits, but like many people with asthma, he struggled to control his symptoms so he could pursue his passion for music.

Brendan’s situation isn’t uncommon. A survey conducted by GSK in 2016 found that despite most asthma sufferers perceiving their condition to be under control, 74% experience several symptoms multiple times a week. This may lead to many giving up things they love.

“A lot of people with uncontrolled asthma actually resort to giving up certain activities, simply to avoid an attack,” says Dr. David Slade, Pulmonologist and GSK Medical Affairs Lead on Asthma. However, one of the goals of asthma treatment is for patients to continue their regular activities without interference from asthma symptoms, said Dr. Slade. “This is achievable for many patients.”

man playing instrument

It was also achievable for Brendan. He was proactive in working with his doctor to get his symptoms under control, and he also learned musical breathing techniques—a common practice when playing wind instruments—which helped him improve his breathing.

“In fact, I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually had an attack,” he said.

It also made him a better musician. He remembers trudging through the snow and cold to the music building at his University during freshman year.

“I would walk into rehearsals and be out of breath for the first 25-30 minutes. I knew it was impeding how much I could contribute to the group and I also knew the impact it had on the entire band. If I wanted to be better, I knew breath control was something I had to master.”

Now, Brendan teaches music at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. He is also a member of the Holland Symphony Orchestra in Holland, Michigan, and enjoys a career in private wealth management. Controlling his breathing also had a positive impact other elements of his life – he doesn’t let it impact his daily routines.

“I don’t think I’d be successful – in life and in music - without having learned how to control my every breath”, he says. “You can’t let asthma stop you from making music,” he added. “This is how I deal with asthma…in real life.”

With his asthma under control, Brendan makes beautiful music on his tuba. Listen to a sample of his work plus a sample of him playing with the Holland Symphony Orchestra.

Thank you

Thanks to all who shared how they managed their asthma or COPD and Lived Every Breath in 2017

Take time to review additional stories about the inspirational Respiratory Pioneers and people with Asthma or COPD who are doing everything they can to Live Every Breath.