Paul Alexander has lived in an iron lung for over 70 years after contracting polio at age 6.

Sara B

Paul Richard Alexander has become known as the last surviving person living in an iron lung. Paul was born on January 10, 1946, and contracted polio at age 6 in 1952.

Polio is an illness that affects the nerves in the spinal cord or brain stem, and in severe cases, it can cause paralysis and breathing trouble and lead to death. Polio is contagious and spreads mainly through contaminated water and fecal particles.

At this time, there was still no cure for polio; many remained paralyzed or had their limbs placed in braces to walk. In 1928 Philip Drinker and Louis Shaw came up with a solution for those with the worst polio case.

Creating the first machine that would work would help treat those suffering from a worst-case scenario and those whose breathing was affected. It did not cure their issues but kept those alive long enough to heal, which took time.

Their device, now known as the iron lung, helped to deflate and inflate the lungs of those with paralyzed lungs. The iron lung was a huge metal box in which the patient was placed. The respirator pushes air into the lungs by artificial respiration, called external negative pressure ventilation.

The bellows then sucked the air out of the box, and the patient remained sealed in the box; as the air pressure in the chest fell, the patient's lungs automatically expanded, allowing fresh air to move into the diaphragm. The container created passive inflation and deflation of the lungs allowing air to keep the patient alive and oxygenating the blood.

In 1952 when Paul contracted polio, it was reported as the worst polio epidemic, and over 57,000 people were affected. The most vulnerable to contracting polio at this time were the children. When Paul contracted polio, he was recommended to remain at home since the hospitals were full.

Eventually, he was brought to the hospital, and due to Paul having difficulty breathing and clearing phlegm out of his lungs, a doctor performed a tracheotomy on him, this allowed the phlegm to be removed from his lungs, and Paul was placed in the iron lung.

The doctors taught Paul breathing exercises; within two years, he could breathe outside the iron lung for short periods. However, he still slept inside the iron lung. While in the lung learning, he realized that he had to learn differently, like memorizing instead of notetaking.

When he was 21, he graduated from high school, the only person to graduate who never attended classes, and at the top of his class. He then applied to university, and for two years, they deemed him too disabled to study; he, however, was determined, and eventually, they permitted him to learn.

He even moved on campus with his iron lung. Finally, in 1978 he graduated from the University of Texas. Then in 1984, he obtained a law degree and, in 1986, passed his bar. Paul then worked as a lawyer in a modified wheelchair that allowed him to breathe outside the iron lung.

Paul has written a book called ¨Three Minutes for a dog, My life in an iron lung¨. He wrote it himself with a stick in his mouth.

According to The Guardian, "It took him more than eight years to write it, using the plastic stick and a pen to tap out his story on the keyboard, or dictating the words to his friend."

He was determined. Paul says:

"No matter where you're from or what your past is, or the challenges you could be facing. You can truly do anything. You just have to set your mind to it, and work hard."

Seventy years after becoming paralyzed, he is now again full-time in his iron lung.

What an inspiration, a man with all odds against him, and he did not let it rule his life, and he went on to achieve his dreams.

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news. Living nomadically since 2018, currently in Colombia.

Pasadena, CA

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