The Man with an iron lungs- Paul Alexander

Rose McQueens
10 Min Read

Man with Iron Lungs

A 76-year-old man who was disabled by polio at age 6 is one of the last people with an iron lung and nevertheless declares, “My life is amazing.”

Man with iron lungs
Man with iron lungs

The 76-year-old Paul Alexander has lived a remarkable life. He has used an iron lung for the majority of his life and is among the last people in the world to still use the respirator from 1928.

He has enjoyed a very fulfilling life despite his peculiar circumstances, and he has never been content with anything less.

When Paul was just six years old, he went inside the Dallas, Texas, suburbia where his family lived and informed his mother that he wasn’t feeling well.

Since his birth in 1946, Paul has always been a healthy, content, and active child, but all of a sudden, it was clear that something was wrong.

“Oh my God, not my son,” Paul recalled his mother saying.

According to the doctor’s instructions, he rested in bed for the next three days, but the youngster was still visibly suffering from polio and not getting better.

He lost the capacity to breathe, swallow, or hold anything in his hands less than a week after initially being very unwell.

Boy in iron lung machine
Man with iron lungs young


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He joined several other children who had the same symptoms when his parents finally arrived at the hospital.

Before polio vaccines were available, the infection rendered more than 15,000 people incapable.

Polio can continue spread even in those who are sick but do not exhibit any signs of the disease.

Among the symptoms of polio include fatigue, fever, stiffness, muscular soreness, and vomiting.

In rarer cases, polio can potentially cause paralysis and death.

Paul was given a second chance at life by a different doctor after being examined by one who pronounced him dead.

Man and female doctor

Paul was then placed into an iron lung after the second doctor finished the emergency tracheotomy.

When he eventually opened his eyes three days later, he was surrounded by rows of children who had also been equipped with iron lungs.

”I didn’t know what had happened I had all kinds of imaginings, like I’d died.

“I kept asking myself: Is this what death is? Is this a coffin? Or have I gone to some undesirable place?” the Texas native told As It Happens host Carol Off in 2017.

The fact that Paul couldn’t communicate due to having a tracheotomy added to the scary nature of the situation.

“I tried to move, but I couldn’t move. Not even a finger.

I tried to touch something to figure it out, but I never could. So it was pretty strange.”

It was developed in the late 1920s and was the first machine to ventilate a person.

The apparatus creates a negative pressure in the chamber that draws air into the patient’s lungs and is hermetically sealed from the neck down.

It was known as the “Drinker respirator” in the beginning.

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If it results in overpressure, the patient exhales as air is forced out of the lungs once more.


Paul spent at least 18 months in the metal container before getting better from the initial illness.

Also, he wasn’t by himself. According to the facts, Paul’s disease began in the sad year of 1952.

In 1952, the virus was spread by more than 58,000 people, largely children, in the United States. Sadly, 3,145 of them perished.

Iron lungs in endless rows, as far as the eye could see. Full of children,” he allegedly said.

Although some people may have lost the will to life, Paul was just made stronger.

He intended to refute the statements made by the doctors every time one passed by, such as “He shouldn’t be alive” and “He’s going to die today.” But nevertheless he proved them wrong.

In 1954, he was discharged from the hospital, but he soon understood that the sickness had radically altered the course of his life.

“People didn’t like me very much back then,” he said during a video interview in 2021. “I felt like they were uncomfortable around me.”

But with the help of Mrs. Sullivan, a therapist who visited him twice a week, his life started to get better little by little.

If he could “frog breathe” for three minutes without the iron lung, which includes flattening your tongue and stretching your neck to trap air in your mouth, his therapist would get him a puppy.

After a year of hard work, Paul was able to spend more and more time outside the iron lung.

He was the first person to receive an honors diploma from a Dallas high school at age 21 without ever setting foot inside. He ultimately decided to pursue a college education after being turned down repeatedly, and Southern Methodist University admitted him.

“They said I was too crippled and did not have the vaccination,” he recalled. “Two years of tormenting them, they accepted me on two conditions. One, that I take the polio vaccine, and two that a fraternity would be responsible for me.”

He continued his schooling at the University of Texas in Austin to pursue a law education after receiving his degree from Southern Methodist University. After succeeding on the bar exam, he began to practice law in the Dallas–Fort Worth area.

“And I was a pretty damn good one too!”

Even after a 30-year career in the courtroom, he kept busy by creating a book, which he typed all by himself using a pen linked to a stick.

According to a Gizmodo, Paul is one of the few people who are still living in the almost extinct machine. The 76-year-old is always confined to his old iron lung and has spent a significant amount of his life in a can.


Iron lungs Machines
D18J3F Nurse attend to a room full of polio patients in iron lung respirators. Rancho Los Amigos Respirator Center, Hondo, California.


”I have travelled with it — put it in a truck, took it with me. I’ve gone to college with it, lived in a dorm. That freaked everybody out,” he said.

Paul’s specific type of iron lung hasn’t been manufactured in fifty years due to how much more sophisticated and high-tech modern ventilators are.

Despite the availability of new technology, the polio survivor prefers his metal chamber.

But seven years ago, the metal lung came perilously close to failing, forcing the Dallas attorney to publish a panicked YouTube notice.

Fortunately, there are still lots of abandoned devices scattered across the country, which means that replacement parts are widely accessible. Dedicated users of outdated technologies have also helped Paul, to his advantage.

”A lot of people who had polio and they’re dead. What did they do with the iron lung? I’ve found them in barns. I found them in garages. I’ve found them in junk shops. Not much, but enough to scrounge [for] parts,” he says.

Paul is currently working on his second book; he has lived longer than his parents and older brother.

Paul asserted that he has been able to live such a meaningful life because he “never gave up.”

“I wanted to accomplish the things I was told I couldn’t accomplish,” he said, “and to achieve the dreams I dreamed.”

In the US, polio has been all but eliminated since 1979. However, rare polio outbreaks brought on by vaccination continue to be a reason for worry.

Paul is really motivational. I hope that the brave and motivational account of how he overcame adversity to create his life will encourage everyone who reads this.

His perseverance proves that there are no limitations outside of those we place on ourselves. Please share his experience with your friends and family to inspire others.


Such an inspirational story.

Thanks For Reading.

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