“Asthma should never stop anyone pursuing their dreams”

Bagpiper Dougie McCance, 24, makes sure his asthma doesn’t get in the way of touring or teaching

Dougie McCance, Herald and Times

“I first noticed that I was getting breathless aged seven, at a primary school sports day. After that, I became breathless all the time, even when I was sleeping. It got so bad I was waking up in the middle of the night coughing and struggling to breathe, needing my reliever inhaler.

“When I was given a preventer inhaler to take twice a day, I noticed a vast difference in my breathing within three weeks. A few asthma reviews later, my peak flow reading had increased too - more evidence it was working.”

Practice makes perfect

“I started learning the bagpipes when I was eight. No-one in my family plays an instrument but I have always loved the sound of the bagpipes, and a piper at my dad’s work offered to teach me.

“The bagpipes were difficult to learn at first, as you need strong abdominal muscles to play and it takes a while to build them up. But I played my pipes for 30 minutes every day. Most of the time my asthma didn’t affect playing but if I had symptoms and couldn’t play the full pipes for that long, I still practised on my chanter [a practice instrument like a recorder] - nothing was going to stop me!

“Since then my breathing has improved vastly. I no longer have to take my reliever inhaler every day - it only gets used when I really need it. And my last asthma attack was in primary school, over 15 years ago. But I have to keep taking my preventer inhaler every day - I really notice a difference if I don’t take it, or don’t practise my bagpipes for more than a week.”

The career of my dreams

“For the last six years, I have been touring with my band, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. We travel worldwide and perform high-energy shows which are up to two hours long. If piping didn’t help my asthma, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue the career of my dreams. I feel great now! Playing a woodwind instrument has also helped me to keep fit and exercise with ease.

“When we perform abroad at festivals, the dust and dry mud can trigger my asthma – but the band’s guitarist has asthma too, so we look out for each other.”

Just try it!

“I would highly recommend learning a woodwind instrument, particularly the bagpipes. I now perform and teach the instrument full time (including virtual lessons over Skype) and I really enjoy it! The time and effort you commit will pay off very soon. Asthma should never stop anyone pursuing their dreams or doing something they love.” 

Last updated April 2017 

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