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Respiratory Therapist Forms Chorus for 9/11 Workers

NEW YORK -- For firefighters and other WTC disaster workers suffering from respiratory problems related to working at Ground Zero, the key to pulmonary health may now be just a few notes away.

Today, registered respiratory therapist and singer Jill Hueckel will launch her new chorus for 9/11 rescue workers at the Unitarian Church of Staten Island, New Brighton.

The 10-week program, called SPARK -- Sing for Pulmonary Rehab and Kinship -- is designed to improve lung function through the practice of techniques such as pursed-lip breathing and controlled exhalation, the same type of techniques used by singers to control the pitch and length of their notes.

Ms. Hueckel, who performs pulmonary function tests on firefighters at NYU Medical Center, got the idea for the program while taking pulmonary rehab classes, where she noticed the crossover between breathing exercises and singing technique.

"The opening and relaxation of the airways is the main goal of each," she said. "For example, pursed-lip breathing, where the patient exhales as if they are whistling, relaxes the respiratory tract and can ease breathing. Singers also use this technique to control the amount of air they exhale."

Because medical insurance rarely covers the expenses associated with pulmonary rehab, SPARK registration for firefighters and others is free. "It's the least we can do, to give them everything we can," Ms. Hueckel said.

SPARK's repertoire will consist of 10 selections from the Unitarian hymnal, and a final performance is tentatively scheduled for the last week of the program. In addition to singing, participants will engage in "meditation for relaxation" exercises, such as visualizing a certain color and imagining it swirling through their lungs.

Ms. Hueckel hopes the program will "spark" an interest in firehouses across Staten Island. "I know people will be blown away," she says.

SPARK will meet on Fridays from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, located at 312 Fillmore St. More information can be obtained by calling Ms. Hueckel at 718-720-0282.

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