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The Man in the Iron Lung: Paul Alexander

Avinash Menon Wednesday, July 14, 2021
The Man in the Iron Lung: Paul Alexander

Recent times have shown us the destructive potential of a disease and the severe impact it has on a microscale as well as a microscale. Years before the Coronavirus took course, Poliovirus was a major fear of mankind, coiling its devastating hands around the neck of mankind.

Polio is a disease that causes permanent paralysis. It’s an incurable disease, as well as deadly. It is caused by the Poliovirus. Polio can spread from person to person and can infect the spinal cord, which causes paralysis.

During the 1950’s, parents were so afraid of the mysterious and deadly virus that they kept their children from playing with others. Pools, theaters, summer camps, offices and even schools were shut down. Everybody was petrified of the virus. Parents would doubt their children even if they had a mild fever, or cold.

Paul Alexander is a Polio survivor who spends nearly all day in his very own Iron Lung at home in Dallas, Texas. Polio has paralyzed Paul from the neck onwards, so the Iron Lung aids him to breathe by using negative pressure to force his body to take in air.

Paul was only six years old when he caught polio in 1952, one of the worst outbreak years in U.S history. When he contracted polio, like everyone else, he began to feel a little bit ill. When his mother saw his face, she instantly knew that he had polio, and immediately put him to bed. Over the next five days, he lost almost everything; he couldn’t move, or walk, then finally, he lost the ability to breathe. His diaphragm was completely destroyed, along with his body muscles, by the virus. This state left him in the Iron Lung for the rest of his life.

But just a few months later after Paul contracted the disease, Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine for polio.

Today, Paul is one of the last living polio survivors who has such a bad case of paralysis that he still relies on the Iron Lung. He can leave the device for a few hours at a time, with extreme difficulty. He relies on his long-time caretaker to do just about anything he cannot do with his own mouth.

Even this didn’t stop Paul from living a full life. He went to law school, passed the bar exam, and started his own practice. Paul has had thousands of clients. They were all so amazed and thought that if Paul could live through that, then he would definitely be the best and the greatest lawyer. So, he has had nobody to turn him down.

The last Iron Lung was manufactured half a century ago, so Paul struggled to find people who knew how to fix the delicate antique. He became so desperate for help, that his friend posted a video on YouTube of Paul explaining that his Iron Lung was falling apart and hoped that someone could fix it. He managed to get lucky when he met Brady Richards, a local engineer. Paul then stopped worrying about his Iron Lung. Brady refurbished the machine in a garage where he also works on hot roads as well as race cars. Paul’s life would have been down the tubes if it wasn’t for the local engineer.

Polio is still a major concern in some developing countries. Some say it's possible a new polio epidemic could happen in the U.S, as more and more parents are opting out of immunizing their children. It takes just one person to cause an epidemic to a certain country. This was what exactly happened in the U.S, in the 1950’s.

Paul has written a memoir (Three Minutes for a Dog) using only his mouth. He hopes it will help people understand what it’s like to live with polio and why we must contribute to the fight to eradicate it globally. Paul has experienced lots of things: he was infected, then paralyzed, and finally lost the ability to even breathe. And now, he has to live through another pandemic. That’s two diseases he should avoid for as long as he lives.

Paul’s willpower and resilience are inspirations for mankind. He shows us how to grow and flourish despite the onslaught of a virus. His determination is extremely relevant in modern times in the presence of the feared Coronavirus. He is a constant reminder that we are able to overcome any sort of trouble and Paul Alexander’s life should indeed be a source of immense optimism and motivation to us.


- SheriKhan22. (2018, November 14). The man who lived 66 years in Machine | Paul Alexander iron lung. YouTube.

- 2021. The last few Polio Survivors-Last of the Iron. [online]

Avinash Menon
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