Paul Alexander, who lived in iron lung for more than 70 years, dies at 78

21:00, Wednesday, 13 March, 2024
Paul Alexander, who lived in iron lung for more than 70 years, dies at 78

Paul Alexander, an American man who spent more than 70 years living in an iron lung, died on Monday. He was 78.

     Alexander, who was also known online as ‘Iron Lung Man,’ spent the last seven decades of his life living in an iron lung after contracting polio when he was a child in the 1950s.

The Dallas, Texas resident was diagnosed with polio when he was 6 years old and was paralyzed from the neck down, leaving him unable to breathe on his own.

Despite being confined to a 600-pound iron lung, Alexander was a go-getter with a zest for life. He obtained his law degree, passed the bar to become a lawyer and wrote a book, all while his entire body, except his head, was immobilized in the machine.

Alexander was one of the last remaining polio survivors to use an iron lung. The massive, coffin-shaped machine is a mechanical respirator that works by using negative pressure to push air into the lungs. Most patients spent a few weeks or months in an iron lung, but in cases like Alexander’s, where a patient’s chest muscles have been permanently paralyzed, it meant a lifetime in the machine.

Iron lungs are no longer common in today’s medicine and have been replaced by the development of modern ventilators and the widespread use of tracheal intubation.

In the mid-20th century, tens of thousands of people contracted polio, with thousands killed by the infectious disease.

Though polio has been mostly eradicated as a result of the vaccine invented in 1953, the disease still exists today.

Alexander was passionate about protecting children from polio and eradicating the now-rare disease.

In an introductory video on his TikTok page posted in January 2022, Alexander said he wanted to “talk to the world about polio, and the millions of children not protected against polio.”

“They have to be, before there’s another epidemic,” Paul advocated.

The video has been viewed 56 million times.

Alexander’s death was announced on a now-disabled GoFundMe page established to financially support Alexander in 2022. The page said Alexander was earlier taken advantage of by a caretaker who stole his money and left Alexander unable to pay for the high cost of his healthcare.

Alexander’s brother, Philip, said in a statement that he is grateful for those who donated money to support his sibling.

“It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free,” Philip said of the fundraiser. “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.”

In February, Alexander’s social media manager, Lincoln, said on TikTok that Alexander was hospitalized with COVID-19. Lincoln said the sickness was “really, really dangerous” for someone with Alexander’s condition.

Paul was released from hospital but was “weak,” Lincoln said, noting that Alexander would take a break from creating videos. It is the last update on Alexander’s social media page.

Alexander’s cause of death is currently unclear.

Alexander’s positive attitude, despite his condition, was an inspiration to many.

“Being positive is a way of life for me,” he said about keeping himself motivated through life’s ups and downs.

“I’ve seen so many people suffer in my life, and I’ve learned not to let that bring me down, but try to contribute something good for that person.”

Alexander said he liked to pay people compliments and see people smile.

Can you still catch polio today?
     The polio virus has made a comeback in some parts of the world, including regions in West Africa and Asia.

In 2022, the polio virus was found in New York City sewage. U.S. officials reported that an unvaccinated American in the state was diagnosed with the country’s first case of polio in nearly a decade.

That same year, a form of the polio virus, called cVDPV2, was isolated from two environmental samples from a large wastewater treatment plant in Montréal, Que., according to the Polio Eradication Global Initiative. The instance was linked to the confirmed case in New York.

At the time, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, called polio a “vaccine-preventable illnesses” and heralded the immunization as “very effective.”

“The key is to get up-to-date with your vaccination…The vaccine coverage is quite high for polio in Canada, but I don’t know what happened during the pandemic. I hope people are getting caught up before school or travel,” she added.

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