Thursday, September 28, 2023
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A man who’s lived inside an iron lung for more than 70 years after being struck down by polio developed a new way of breathing

Paul Alexander’s life has been defined by the devastating impact of polio since he was just six years old. Struck down by the disease, he was left paralyzed from the neck down, relying on an iron lung since 1952 to assist him in breathing.

Inside the iron lung, a terrifying metal contraption, Paul has spent his lifetime, occasionally developing his own unique breathing technique called ‘frog breathing,’ which allowed him to spend limited time outside the machine. This ventilator creates a vacuum to mechanically draw oxygen into the lungs for patients whose respiratory function was severely affected by polio.

However, the Guardian reported, With tremendous determination and the support of his physical therapist, Paul learned to breathe without the ventilator for extended periods, enabling him to venture beyond the yard and even attend university. His dream of becoming a trial lawyer was realized despite his paralysis, and he led an extraordinary life, experiencing love, activism for disability rights, and even publishing his memoir.

At 77 years old, Paul remains one of the last people in the world to still use an iron lung, relying on it almost exclusively to breathe. Despite his resilience, he fears the possibility of a polio resurgence, urging caution to the medical community.

Fortunately, widespread vaccination efforts have led to the near-eradication of polio globally. While it remains endemic in a few regions, cases have dramatically decreased compared to its mid-20th-century impact.

Paul’s life stands as a testament to the indomitable human spirit, showing that with determination and hard work, one can overcome tremendous challenges. Despite the obstacles he has faced, Paul’s story serves as an inspiration for all.

Moriah Ballard
Moriah Ballard
Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.


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