Cody White, 13, has such a severe case of asthma that he sometimes ends up sitting inside the house the entire day.
His allergies can cause him to want to sleep for days at a time.
That is, until he learned to play the harmonica.
"Now all of that is pretty much gone after I started (playing the harmonica)," said the eighth-grader.
Cody started taking harmonica classes last spring at Methodist Fayette Hospital in Somerville, Tenn., just east of Memphis.
For the home-schooler, learning "On Top of Old Smoky" and other songs have made all the difference in the world.
"'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' is one of my favorites," he said. "It's really, really making a difference. It's not so hard to breathe."
Created by the hospital's registered respiratory therapist, Jane Bush, the classes are tailored toward people with bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"By blowing out and drawing in continually, it mimics breathing," said Bush. "And you get to produce music you enjoy.
"It is much like pursed-lipped breathing, which is a specific type of exercise. Due to restrictive airflow, it keeps positive pressure in the airways and makes it feel like you are less short of breath. It's a low-impact exercise, (and) your lungs become stronger and more flexible, which makes it easier to get air in and out."
The classes are not designed to produce the next Sonny Boy Williamson or Blind Mississippi Morris.
"Even if you did have a musical background, these classes are geared towards pulmonary rehabilitation," Bush said.
Bush teaches the classes as four consecutive, one-hour sessions, so students must attend the first class and continue with the program.
"You can't come in on, say, the third class having missed what was taught at the previous two classes. That's just too many different things going on at once," she said.
Classes are restricted to patients with pulmonary disorders, and preregistration is required.
"Since everything is free, I have to know how many harmonicas to bring and make sure I have the right amount of space," Bush said.
A free harmonica is given to each student.
"It's good for the community to keep people well," Bush said.
She doesn't limit the sessions to just blowing on a harmonica. She also provides information about the different pulmonary disorders, pulmonary hygiene, helpful products and other tips.
"(Bush) has given us a lot of information that's been beneficial to our learning about breathing," said student Louise Maddox, 65, who has been attending classes with her husband, James, 68. "We've both had asthma since we were children. Our parents had it, and both of our daughters have it."
The two play their harmonicas at home and have even bought a couple for their daughters.
"I'll be upstairs doing something, and I'll hear James playing and I'll just smile," she said. "My daughter will hear me playing, and she'll say, 'Can you speed it up?' The classes aren't there to teach you how to play. They teach you how to breathe. We've really enjoyed it."
Somerville resident -- and aspiring harmonica whiz -- Gladys Douglass, 76, hopes to not only one day be able to play a recognizable song, but to also wean herself off her medication.
"I tell you what, I can breathe better by blowing and sucking on this harmonica. I don't have to have breathing treatment as often now. Hopefully, eventually I can get off the medicine," said Douglass, who has COPD. "I'm not good at it. That's going to take a whole lot of practice."
Cody, of the Memphis suburb of Oakland, plays five or six times a week, and he does his harmonica homework.
"Sometimes I look online to find more songs so I can keep it all going and help it get better," he said.
Douglass isn't the only one playing for a cure, either. Cody has also made a promise to himself.
"I'm going to play until my asthma is completely gone. It is a curable disease," Cody said.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)