A Wonderful Endorsement of Mary Massery’s Approach from our Guest Blogger


The year was … well, a long time ago. I was a PT student at Boston University, and Larry Cahalan was teaching a cardio-pulm class. I don’t remember which one exactly, but I know it was the semester before my second clinical. He brought in a guest lecturer, Mary Massery, who talked a lot about postural control and breathing, and the relation of the two.

You know it’s a good lecture when almost twenty years later, you remember what you learned. In the short term, on my second clinical the following semester, I was able to take some of the applications and help a very complex medically involved baby (I think he was about a year old). This baby, whose list of diagnoses was long and complex (and he had a brother with the same mysterious condition), didn’t tolerate therapy. He shut down and pretended to sleep, opening his eyes as soon as the door closed. One of the things I noticed is that he was using his accessory muscles to breathe, making it a very rapid and inefficient breathing process. Calling on the discussion from Dr. Massery’s lecture, after discussion with my C.I., I worked on different positioning and handling techniques to facilitate the more effective and efficient diaphragmatic breathing in this client.

I would say that it wasn’t much. But, as the title of Dr. Massery’s course indicates, “If You Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Function.” This child, facing so many challenges simply on the basis of his anatomy, had to learn how to breathe efficiently. The application of Dr. Massery’s teacher gave him that.

I kept in touch with the family for a few years after I graduated. I went to work at a special education school for medically fragile children because of working with this child (and his fabulous family). In one letter (remember when we actually wrote pen and paper letters?), the mother let me know that they still worked on the positioning to facilitate breathing. She said that there hadn’t been one single intervention that had impacted his life as much as that. Now that he was breathing better, he didn’t shut down for therapy, and was more available to work on new skills.

I often wonder how this family is doing today. My client would be in the tail end of his years in the school process. I do know that the lecture from Dr. Massery shaped my career in terms of working with this family, and I particularly enjoy working with the medically-complex, multiply-involved children to this day. I can’t promise that Dr. Massery’s course, “If You Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Function” will change your life the way it did mine, but I have a feeling it will.

P.S.- This past weekend, while cleaning out the basement, I found Dr. Massery’s business card from that lecture. I’ve kept it in my PT stuff all these years because I knew how valuable it was. While other things went into the recycling pile, I think I’m going to hold onto that for a little while longer.

~Kathryn Biel, PT, DPT

Don’t Miss Her Courses:

If you Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Function – Introductory Course Plus TWO days of Intensive LAB
March 10-12, 2017 – Chicago, IL
March 24-26, 2017 – St. Louis, MO
July 27-29, 2017 – Mountainside, NJ
(an option is available to attend a one day introductory course)