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How Opera Singers Are Helping COVID-19 Survivors

Program focusing on breath exercises to benefit up to 1K patients in England
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2021 8:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Wayne Cameron was skeptical when his doctor suggested the 56-year-old warehouse logistics manager take vocal lessons from opera singers as a way to cope with the respiratory issues that plagued him after he contracted COVID-19 in March. "I thought, 'Am I going to be the next Pavarotti?'" the Brit tells the New York Times. After six weekly lessons, however, he realized "the program really does help," both physically and mentally. "Opera is rooted in breath," explains Jenny Mollica of the English National Opera. As the coronavirus wreaked havoc last spring, she suggested to Dr. Sarah Elkin the idea of having performers with the ENO teach breath exercises to patient. Elkin, a respiratory specialist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, jumped at the idea. With breathlessness, "once you’ve gone through the possibilities with drug treatments, you feel you don't have a lot to give people," Elkin says.

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Cameron and 11 others worked with a singing coach in group sessions over Zoom, performing a series of breath exercises meant to increase lung capacity and calm anxiety. There was also some singing involved, as Canada's Global News reports. As a result, Cameron tells the Times he can now hit some high notes and is "more in tune." More importantly, "I've got far more confidence than I did" and "that dark feeling has disappeared." Participating musicians have also benefited during a period in which their careers have been put on hold. "It's fantastic to realize that this skill set we have is useful," says Mollica. The "ENO Breathe" program will now expand to include up to 1,000 English patients over the coming months, the opera says in a release. (International expansion is also possible, per Global News.) Meanwhile, a randomized trial will focus on the effects. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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