Paul Alexander, Man Who Lived Inside Iron Lung For 70 Years, Passes Away At 78

Paul Alexander, known as “The Man in the Iron Lung” or “Polio Paul” passed away at the age of 78 on Tuesday (March 12), leaving behind a legacy of resilience and inspiration after surviving polio.

Paul was diagnosed with poliomyelitis, a highly infectious viral disease caused by the poliovirus, in 1952 at only six years old.

Born on January 30, 1946, in Dallas, Texas, USA, the polio survivor went on to spend the rest of his life encased in a machine known as an iron lung, also known as a “negative pressure ventilator,” a medical device used to help individuals with respiratory paralysis, a condition Paul suffered from.

As per a 2020 article published by The Guardian, Paul recovered from his initial infection but was left almost completely paralyzed from the neck down from polio, and what his diaphragm could no longer do for him, the iron lung did.

Paul Alexander, the “Man in the Iron Lung” or “Polio Paul,” passed away at 78, leaving behind a legacy of resilience after surviving polio

Image credits: Special Book by Special Kids

Paul spent the next 72 years of his life laying flat on his back, his head resting on a pillow and his body encased in the metal cylinder from the neck down, with air sucked out of the cylinder by a set of leather bellows powered by a motor; the negative pressure created by the vacuum forcing his lungs to expand.

Despite his condition, the resilient boy went on to go to college and become a lawyer, as well as a published author.

“Paul was an incredible role model that will continue to be remembered, his friend Christopher Ulmer wrote in an update on the GoFundMe page he had set up to cover Paul’s medical expenses. A total of $143,461 had been raised before Paul’s passing.

Image credits: Gizmodo

“I just got off the phone with Philip, Paul’s brother, who wants to communicate the following message,” Christopher wrote before unveiling the following message: “I am so grateful to everybody who donated to my brother’s fundraiser.

“It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free. It will also pay for his funeral during this difficult time.

“It is absolutely incredible to read all the comments and know that so many people were inspired by Paul. I am just so grateful.”

Christopher continued: “Paul, you will be missed but always remembered.

“Thanks for sharing your story with us.”

Paul spent 72 years of his life laying flat on his back, his body encased in a metal cylinder from the neck down

Image credits: Gizmodo

Paul leaves an impressive legacy, including his recognition by Guinness World Records as the person who has spent the longest amount of time living in an iron lung.

At 21, he became the first person to graduate from a Dallas high school without physically attending a class.

Paul got into Southern Methodist University in Dallas, after repeated rejections by the university administration, then into law school at the University of Texas at Austin, according to The Guardian.

Image credits: Gizmodo

For decades, Paul was a lawyer in Dallas and Fort Worth, representing clients in court in a three-piece suit and a modified wheelchair that held his paralyzed body upright.

As per The Guardian, at a time when disabled people were less often seen in public – the Americans With Disabilities Act, which banned discrimination, wouldn’t be passed until 1990 – Paul was visible.

The trailblazing lawyer could leave his iron lung a few hours at a time after teaching himself to breathe and would use a plastic stick and a pen attached to it to tap on a keyboard to communicate with people, Sky News reported.

After recovering from polio, Paul was left paralyzed from the neck down; what his diaphragm could no longer do for him, the iron lung did

Image credits: Mitch Summers

“I knew if I was going to do anything with my life, it was going to have to be a mental thing. I wasn’t going to be a basketball player,” Paul told The Guardian in 2020.

According to the World Health Organization, of the three strains of wild poliovirus (type 1, type 2, and type 3), wild poliovirus type 2 was eradicated in 1999 and wild poliovirus type 3 was eradicated in 2020.

As of 2022, endemic wild poliovirus type 1 remains in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“You will be missed good soul Paul,” a reader commented


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