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Man Who Lived Inside Iron Lung For Over 70 Years Has Died

Paul Alexander Dead: The man who lived in an iron lung for over 70 years after contracting polio has died aged 78.
Credit: GoFundMe & @ironlungman/TikTok

Paul Alexander, the man who lived inside an iron lung for over 70 years, has passed away aged 78.

Alexander, better known as Polio Paul, contracted the viral disease at the age of six in 1952.

Following his battle with polio, which has claimed the lives of many, Alexander spent the rest of his life in an iron lung.

However, now it’s been confirmed that the inspirational figure has passed away.

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The innovative device saved Alexander’s life for more than seven decades and he was even recognised by Guinness World Records as having spent the longest amount of time living inside an iron lung.

The machine ‘was a huge metal box attached to bellows in which the patient was encased. The continuous suction from the bellows kept the patient breathing’, as per the Science Museum.

The publication adds: “It soon became a feature of the polio wards of the mid-1900s. By 1939, around 1,000 iron lungs were in use in the USA.”

The CDC writes that ‘polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis’.

Thanks to the polio vaccine, however, the disease is almost entirely eradicated in modern society.

“The results were announced on 12 April 1955, and Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) was licensed on the same day. By 1957, annual cases dropped from 58 000 to 5600, and by 1961, only 161 cases remained,” the WHO states.

Nurses attending polio patients.
Nurses attend to a room full of polio patients in iron lung respirators. Credit: Alamy

After contracting polio aged six, Alexander was no longer able to breathe for himself and was paralysed.

In spite of this, he achieved a lot over the course of his unusual life.

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

He went on to graduate from law school and represented his clients at trial in a modified wheelchair that held him upright.

Alexander also worked as a disability advocate and published his memoir titled ‘Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung’.

The book took five years to complete and was written by Alexander using a pen attached to a stick in his mouth.

He was even engaged at one time to a woman named Claire who he met at university.

But tragically, it has now been announced that Alexander has died.

Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander, the man who lived inside an iron lung for over 70 years, has passed away aged 78. Credit: SBSK via YouTube

Since the news has broken, social media has been flooded with devastated tributes to Alexander.

“Sad news Paul Alexander was a remarkable man who had much to teach us about personal resilience,” one person writes.

“He and other iron lung users are a reminder of the potential life span for medical devices and need to design for longevity. His life and death are an illustration of the importance of vaccines.”

Another person pens on X, formerly Twitter: “So sad to hear that Paul Alexander passed yesterday at age 78.

“Paul contracted polio in 1952 when he was just six years old. He ended up in an iron lung and while he could live outside it for extended periods of time he never really left it.”

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On a GoFundMe page for Alexander, Christopher Ulmer pens: “Paul Alexander, ‘The Man in the Iron Lung’, passed away yesterday.

“After surviving polio as a child, he lived over 70 years inside of an iron lung. During this time Paul went to college, became a lawyer, and a published author.

“His story travelled wide and far, positively influencing people around the world.

“Paul was an incredible role model that will continue to be remembered.

“I met and interviewed Paul in 2022. Our community raised a large amount of money for him. I just got off the phone with Philip, Paul’s brother, who wants to communicate 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.

“Paul, you will be missed but always remembered. Thanks for sharing your story with us.”

Rest in peace.

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Written by Annie Walton Doyle

Annie Walton Doyle is a content editor at IGV who specialises in trending, lifestyle and entertainment news. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a degree in English Literature. Annie has previously worked with organisations such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Harvard University, the Pulitzer Prize and 22 Words.