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Man Who Lived in Iron Lung for Over 70 Years Passes Away at 78

March 13, 2024







Paul Alexander, a resident of Dallas, Texas, who spent more than seven decades in an iron lung, has died at the age of 78. He contracted polio at the age of six in 1952, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and reliant on the machine for breathing.

Despite his physical limitations, Alexander accomplished much in his lifetime. He pursued education, becoming the first person in Dallas to graduate high school at the age of 21 without ever attending in person. He went on to attend Southern Methodist University and later law school at the University of Texas, Austin, becoming a published author and a trial lawyer.

The iron lung, a negative-pressure ventilator, was used to maintain respiration during Alexander’s acute polio infection. They were first used in the 1920s and work by producing pressure on the lungs that causes them to expand and contract so that patients can breathe.

In most cases it would only be used for one or two weeks, until the patient could breathe independently, but some polio survivors with permanent respiratory paralysis rely on them daily.

“The ventilator, resembling a large yellow metal box, requires patients to lie down inside, with the device tightly fastened around their neck. Operating on negative pressure, it mechanically draws oxygen into the lungs, crucial for patients like Alexander whose central nervous system and respiratory function were impacted by polio.”

Photo Credit: Daily Mail 


They are now all but obsolete, replaced by positive-pressure ventilators such as modern day respirators. Alexander chose to continue using the outdated machine, citing familiarity and comfort.

Paul outlived both of his parents, his brother and even his original iron lung, which began leaking air in 2015, but was repaired by a mechanic Brady Richards, which was prompted by a YouTube video of Paul pleading for help.

Throughout his life, Alexander’s story inspired many, showcasing resilience and determination in the face of adversity. His memoir, ‘Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung,’ detailed his experiences and the challenges he overcame.

In his later years, Alexander was supported by caregivers, including Kathy Gaines, who provided assistance and companionship for over three decades.

Polio, a viral disease with devastating effects on the central nervous system and respiratory function, has been a long-standing global health concern. Transmitted through contaminated water, food, or contact with infected individuals, it can result in muscle weakness and paralysis. However, concerted efforts, particularly through widespread vaccination campaigns, have led to significant progress in eradicating polio worldwide.

The introduction of vaccines in the 1950s marked a turning point in the fight against the disease, resulting in its near eradication in many parts of the world.

Today, polio remains endemic in only four countries: Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and as recent data shows, India has achieved a remarkable milestone in its battle against the disease.

Through an extensive campaign spanning two decades and the administration of sustained oral and injected vaccines, India has successfully eradicated polio, effectively ending the epidemic within its borders.

Despite the availability of modern medical technology, Alexander remained steadfast in his reliance on the iron lung, demonstrating a unique bond with the machine that sustained him for so many years.

Paul Alexander’s passing marks the end of an era, leaving behind a legacy of courage and perseverance in the face of extraordinary challenges.


Credit: Daily Mail

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