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Tune In To Lung Health with Bernie Williams

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Four-time World Series champion, New York Yankees legend, and Latin Grammy nominee Bernie Williams’ life was forever changed after losing his father to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a common type of interstitial lung disease (ILD), which can lead to scarring of the lungs, called pulmonary fibrosis. Moved by the loss of his father, Bernie began advocating for ILD awareness and education in 2017 through the Breathless campaign. In recent years, the Breathless campaign has taken inspiration from Bernie’s musical roots and leveraged the universal language of music to bring attention to these diseases.

Tune In To Lung Health represents the next chapter in the Breathless story as Bernie further explores the important role that music can play in helping patients and caregivers.

Harnessing the Power of Music

Research shows that music may help to cope with negative feelings and anxiety, which may occur in people living with ILD and can even affect loved ones and caregivers. Breathing exercises—similar to breathing techniques for singers—also can potentially help improve breathlessness, a common symptom of many types of ILD.

Inspired by his personal experience as a musician and ILD caregiver, Bernie teamed up with celebrity vocal coach Eric Vetro to introduce Tune In To Lung Health—a program designed to raise awareness of ILD and show how music may help people cope with the mental, emotional, and physical burden of these rare lung conditions.

Scroll through the resources available to explore the potential benefit of music and controlled breathing for people with ILD, hear firsthand accounts from those living with the disease, and listen to a curated streaming playlist featuring song recommendations from Bernie and others. Please keep in mind—these exercises are not a substitute for medical care. People living with ILD should consult their healthcare provider before starting any breathing exercises and if they have questions about how breathing exercises may fit into their care plan. The breathing exercises offered as part of this program are not substitutes for a care plan prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Bernie Williams: I’m Bernie Williams, and I lost my dad to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

My dad was my hero. He was the patriarch of our family, and it was difficult to lose him to a disease we knew so little about. Since his passing, I committed myself to raising awareness for interstitial lung disease, and I’ve had the honor of meeting many people who have been affected by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other forms of interstitial lung disease—including patients and caregivers like myself. Hearing these stories has allowed me to spread much-needed awareness for this rare disease and, on a personal level, has helped me heal.

Music played a critical role in helping me cope with the loss of my father. Talking about my family’s experience with interstitial lung disease and how music helped us cope is very important to me. It is one of the ways I can ensure my dad’s legacy lives on. It’s why I’m so excited to be part of Tune In To Lung Health. Through this program, you’ll find plenty of resources and education, including a series of vocal-exercise videos.

I’ll be joined by vocal coach Eric Vetro. He’ll walk us through techniques that he uses with his own celebrity clients. In these videos, you’ll meet people affected by interstitial lung disease. They’ll share personal stories, as well as participate in breathing and vocal exercises that may help you cope with the mental, physical, and emotional burden of this disease. Please explore all these videos and enjoy. I hope you find them helpful.

Bernie: Having worked with many people over the years in your role as a vocal coach, what can you say about the impact of music?

Eric Vetro: Well Bernie, I think we can all relate to how powerful music can be. Sometimes when we just don’t have the words to say exactly what we want to say, music does it best. There’s songs for every occasion and every emotion. There’s songs that express grief and pain. There’s songs that motivate us and inspire us. In my own career as a vocal coach, I’ve witnessed firsthand just how powerful music can be and the emotional response it can elicit. Bernie, I understand music was a big part of your childhood … Can you talk to me a little about that?

Bernie: Yeah, I started playing guitar around the age of eight, and my mom and my dad were very instrumental in that, but specifically my dad … He was, he used to play at night after work, after hours, when we were supposed to be in bed. And, one of those nights, I sort of woke up, and had been listening to him, and asked me if he could teach me how to play, and he taught me a couple of chords and that started my, you know, sort of love affair with the guitar and music in particular.

Eric: Wow. I had a little similar story with my own dad. But then your dad was sadly diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. So how did you use the music then to cope?

Bernie: I was listening to a lot of that music, you know, when my dad passed. I was in the middle of a season, a baseball season, and going through the games, you know, gave me some distraction. It was very important for me to know that he was supportive, and I think, you know, playing some of the music that he used to listen to when he was growing up—it was a way of me connecting with him.

Eric: You have a really unique perspective here, Bernie, because not only do you love listening to music, but you also play, because you’re a musician. And you were so inspired when you were a caregiver for your dad, it inspired you to write a song. Tell me about that.

Bernie: Yes, and the song that I created is called Para Don Berna, because that’s the name that we, you know, people knew him by “Don Berna.” It’s short for Bernabe; it’s “Barnaby.” But I wrote that song probably a week or so after he passed away, and it was a very heartfelt song even though it did not have lyrics. I was trying to put in the notes, and the harmony, and the rhythm and the tempo … My feelings about how important he has been in my life and basically paying a tribute to his memory and his life.

Eric: And now you’re an accomplished musician, so music is still clearly a big part of your life. How do you hope your music is gonna inspire others?

Bernie: Well, I hope that people could hear my story through my music and either going through the same process that I did, you know, going through my dad’s disease, you know, passing away from IPF, they can also be inspired by my story—and maybe they can relate to the things that I was going through, and—ultimately—it will be a lot of help for a lot of people.

Eric: Right. Well, Bernie, thank you so much for being so open and sharing your personal experiences, and your connection with music … It’s so beautiful and inspiring to hear.

Bernie: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I mean, it was just great to be able to tell my story and hopefully have other people listen to it or be inspired or, you know, use it as a resource, you know, in their own journey.

Watch more from Tune In To Lung Health

Bernie’s Story

Since losing his father to a common type of ILD called IPF, Bernie has committed his time and talents to raising awareness of the condition. Explore the videos below to learn more about Bernie’s experience and dedication to helping those with ILD.

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