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Paul Alexander’s 70-Year Journey: A Remarkable Tale of Resilience and the Iron Lung

January 5, 2024

Meet Paul Alexander, a living testament to resilience. Dubbed “Polio Paul”, he has lived inside a 600-pound iron lung for seven decades, reportedly refusing to upgrade to a modern machine.

Paul Alexander, 77, contracted polio in 1952 when he was 6 years old.

In March, Guinness World Records declared him the longest iron lung patient ever.

He has faced many challenges since he was born in 1946.

Just last year, Alexander was “taken advantage of by people who were supposed to care for his best interests,” with a fundraiser collecting $132,000 for him.

In 1952, he endured the worst polio outbreak in US history with almost 58,000 cases — mostly children — reported.

Poliomyelitis (polio) attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord, disrupting communication between the central nervous system and the muscles, eventually making them too weak to allow a person to breathe on their own.

A life-saving vaccine was approved and widely administered to children across the US in 1955.

In 1979, the US was declared polio-free, but it was too late for Alexander, who was paralyzed from the neck down.

Shortly after he was diagnosed, the Texan underwent an emergency tracheotomy and was placed in an iron lung to help his body combat the deadly disease.

He has relied on the neck-to-toe ventilator to survive ever since.

Alexander’s machine was invented in 1928 and has not been manufactured since the late ’60s, as technology has advanced.

The iron lung is an airtight capsule covering everything but the head as it sucks oxygen through negative pressure, forcing the lungs to expand to allow the patient to breathe, per Medscape.

The contraption is large and cumbersome and requires the person using it to be fastened inside.

Despite the invention of more modern machinery, Alexander preferred to continue living in his iron lung.

He explained to the Guardian in 2020 that by the time newer machines were developed, he had become used to his “old iron horse.”

He reportedly refuses to get another hole in his throat — which would have been required for the newer devices.

Alexander has learned to briefly breathe outside the iron lung.

Called “frog breathing,” the technique uses the throat muscles to force air past the vocal cords, allowing the patient to swallow oxygen one mouthful at a time, pushing it down the throat and into the lungs.

The Post reached out to an Alexander rep for comment.

Beyond learning how to breathe on his own for short spurts, Alexander continued pursuing his career dreams and inspiring others.

He finished high school, graduated college, earned a law degree, practiced law for several decades, and wrote a memoir — all while relying upon his iron lung.

“I never gave up, and I’m [still] not going to,” Alexander said in a 2021 video interview.

As Alexander has aged, he has become confined to the contraption and requires round-the-clock care at a facility in Dallas.


Culled from New York Post

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