Polio Paul’s Remarkable 70-Year Survival Inside An Iron Lung

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Paul Alexander, known as “Polio Paul,” has defied the odds by living inside a 600-pound iron lung for an astonishing seven decades, declining to switch to modern respiratory equipment.

Born in 1946, Paul contracted polio in 1952 at the tender age of 6, during the worst polio outbreak in US history, affecting nearly 58,000 individuals, primarily children.

Polio attacks the spinal cord’s motor neurons, disrupting communication between the central nervous system and muscles, ultimately rendering them too weak for independent breathing.

How Did Polio Paul Survive Inside An Iron Lung?

While a life-saving polio vaccine was introduced in 1955 and the US was declared polio-free in 1979, Paul Alexander’s paralysis from the neck down left him reliant on an iron lung.

Shortly after his diagnosis, he underwent an emergency tracheotomy and was placed in the iron lung, where he has remained ever since.

This iron lung, an airtight capsule enveloping everything except the head, operates through negative pressure, drawing in oxygen to expand the patient’s lungs, enabling breathing.

Despite technological advancements and the discontinuation of iron lung production in the late 1960s, Alexander has steadfastly clung to his antiquated apparatus.

His explanation is simple: by the time newer machines emerged, he had grown accustomed to his trusty “old iron horse,” refusing to undergo a tracheotomy for the newer devices.

Remarkably, Alexander has developed a technique known as “frog breathing” to briefly breathe outside the iron lung. This method involves employing throat muscles to push air past the vocal cords, allowing him to swallow oxygen in small increments, pushing it down his throat and into his lungs.

Paul Alexander’s determination goes beyond his unique medical situation. Despite being confined to his iron lung and requiring round-the-clock care at a Dallas facility as he has aged, he has achieved numerous milestones.

He completed high school, graduated from college, earned a law degree, practiced law for several decades, and even penned a memoir—all while relying on his trusty iron lung. In a video interview from 2021, he declared, “I never gave up, and I’m still not going to.”

Notably, in March, Guinness World Records recognized Paul Alexander as the longest iron lung patient in history, a testament to his resilience and unwavering spirit. However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for him.

In the past year, he fell victim to exploitation, with a fundraiser collecting $132,000 on his behalf, only to have those funds misappropriated by individuals who were supposed to be looking out for his best interests.

Paul Alexander’s story is a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary challenges, a reminder that determination and resilience can triumph even in the most trying circumstances.

Share your thoughts on the challenges Polio Paul has faced throughout his life in the comments below!


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