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Paul Alexander, “The Man with the Iron Lung,” Dies at 78

(Gray News) – Paul Alexander, one of the last people to live in an iron lung, has died, according to reports. He was 78 years old.

Paul Alexander contracted polio at the age of 6 in 1952 and quickly lost the use of most of his body. To survive, he was placed in an iron lung, a machine that stimulates the breathing of people who have lost the use of their respiratory muscles.

Despite the monumental setback, Alexander continued his studies, became a lawyer with a successful practice, and even became a published author.

Alexander would live more than 70 years in an iron lung.

Christopher Ulmer, educator and YouTuber, interviewed Alexandre in 2022 for his YouTube channel Special books for special children. After the interview, Ulmer launched a GoFundMe campaign to help Alexander pay to maintain his iron lung, pay for his health care and find affordable housing that would meet his needs. At the time, Alexander lived in a one-room apartment with no windows, Ulmer said.

“Well, I’m not dead,” Alexander said in the interview. “God didn’t want me to die. So I continued to live. And it was changing all the time. But it was fun. I liked that. I enjoyed the struggle. I enjoyed the challenges. I appreciated the people.

Alexander also explained a technique he used to survive outside the massive respirator for hours, which involved intentionally swallowing air.

When asked if he thought his lifelong disability was fair or unfair, Alexander responded by saying he never saw it in those terms.

“I took it as, ‘Wow, thank God God chose me to do this,’” he said.

In March 2024, Ulmer published a update to the GoFundMe saying that Alexander died on Sunday, March 11.

“His story has traveled far and wide, positively influencing people around the world. Paul was an incredible role model who will always be remembered,” Ulmer wrote in the post.

Ulmer also conveyed a message from Alexander's brother, Philip Alexander.

“I am so grateful (sic) to everyone who donated to my brother's fundraiser. This allowed him to live his last years without stress. It will also help pay for his funeral during this difficult time. It's absolutely amazing to read all the comments and know that so many people have been inspired by Paul. I am so grateful,” said Philip Alexander.

NPR reports that at least one other person depends on an iron lung to live. Martha Lillard contracted polio a year after Paul Alexander.

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