Paul Alexander, ‘The Man in the Iron Lung,’ has died at 78

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

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

Despite the monumental setback, Alexander went on to go to college, become a lawyer with a successful practice, and even become a published author.

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

Christopher Ulmer, an educator and Youtuber, interviewed Alexander in 2022 for his YouTube channel Special Books for Special Kids. After the interview, Ulmer launched a GoFundMe campaign to help Alexander pay to maintain his iron lung, afford his healthcare, and find affordable housing that would accommodate his needs. At the time, Alexander had been living in a one-room apartment with no window, Ulmer said.

“Well, I didn’t die,” Alexander said during the interview. “God didn’t want me to die. So I kept on living. And it changed all the time. But it was fun. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the struggle. I enjoyed the challenges. I enjoyed the people.”

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

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

“I took it like, ‘Wow, thank God picked me out to do this,’” he said.

In March 2024, Ulmer posted an update to the GoFundMe saying Alexander passed away on Sunday, March 11.

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

Ulmer also passed on a message from Alexander’s brother, Philip Alexander.

“I am so gratitude (sic) 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 so many people were inspired by Paul. I am just so grateful,” Philip Alexander said.

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

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