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HomeNews‘Polio Paul’ who lived in an iron lung, dies at 78

‘Polio Paul’ who lived in an iron lung, dies at 78


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Paul Alexander, a man whose life was inextricably linked to an iron lung due to polio, passed away at the age of 78.

Diagnosed with the disease at just six years old in 1952, Alexander became paralysed from the neck down and reliant on the machine for breathing. Despite this immense challenge, Alexander led a remarkable life.

He defied limitations by earning a law degree from the University of Texas and even practicing law. His determination extended beyond the courtroom, as he published a memoir titled “Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung” in 2020.

The title itself reflects his unwavering spirit – a promise made in childhood to breathe independently for three minutes in exchange for a dog, a goal he eventually surpassed.

In 1952, polio struck Paul Alexander. Though doctors in Dallas managed to save his life, the disease left him paralysed and unable to breathe independently.

His new reality involved a constant companion: the iron lung.

This metal cylinder nicknamed his “old iron horse,” enclosed his body up to the neck. Bellows within the machine functioned like artificial lungs, rhythmically sucking air out to expand his lungs and then pushing air back in to allow them to deflate.

Despite the limitations, Alexander displayed remarkable resilience. Over time, he learned to breathe on his own for short periods, granting him brief respites outside the iron lung.

Notably, he defied the grim prognosis for polio survivours reliant on the machine. Alexander lived for decades, witnessing the invention of the polio vaccine in the 1950s and its subsequent success in eradicating the disease in the Western world.

Those who knew Alexander described him as an inspiration, radiating positivity and warmth despite his physical limitations. He actively connected with others through social media, sharing his story and optimistic outlook on platforms like TikTok in his “Conversations With Paul” series.

“He loved to laugh. He was just one of the bright stars of this world, said his longtime friend Spinx.

Alexander’s story resonated globally, becoming a symbol of resilience. He offered a unique perspective on the world through interviews and features, advocating for the disabled community. His passing marks the end of an era, as he was likely the world’s longest inhabitant of an iron lung, a medical marvel of the past.

“He was just a normal brother to me. We fought, we played, we loved, we partied, we went to concerts together – he was just a normal brother, I never thought about it,” said his brother Philip.

The importance of vaccines is highlighted by Alexander’s story. Polio, once a terrifying childhood illness, is now largely preventable due to vaccination programs.

While the iron lung itself may become a relic of medical history, Alexander’s legacy transcends the machine. He leaves behind a powerful message of overcoming limitations with unwavering determination and a positive outlook.

More than just a man confined to an iron lung, Paul Alexander’s story serves as an inspiration to confront challenges with courage, embrace life with optimism, and relentlessly pursue dreams.



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