Paul Alexander, Who Spent 70 Years in an Iron Lung, Dead at 78

Paul Alexander, the longest surviving iron lung patient in the world, has died at age 78. Find out more about his extraordinary life.

By Corinne Heller Mar 13, 2024 7:24 PMTags
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The man in the iron lung has passed away after leading an extraordinary life.

Paul Alexander, who was confined to living in and using a cylindrical negative-pressure ventilator for over 70 years after contracting polio as a child, died March 11. his family confirmed. He was 78.

"It was an honor to be part of someone's life who was as admired as he was. He touched and inspired millions of people and that is no exaggeration," his brother Philip Alexander wrote on Facebook March 12. "To me Paul was just a brother..same as yours..loving, giving advice, and scolding when necessary, and also a pain in the a--..normal brother stuff. He commanded a room..What a flirt! He loved good food, wine, women, long conversations, learning, , and laughing. I will miss him so much. RiP."

The cause of Paul's death was not shared. In recent weeks, his social media manager noted the author was facing health struggles, stating in a Feb. 26 TikTok that the author had been hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19.

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Paul grew up in the Dallas area with his parents, two brothers and a sister. He contracted polio—an infectious disease that can destroy nerve cells in the spinal cord and also lead to death—at age 6 in 1952 during an epidemic.

Unable to breathe and paralyzed from the neck down, he was rushed to the ER and fitted with an iron lung, which were commonly used then on polio patients. He was released from the hospital more than a year later after a doctor told his parents that he likely wouldn't live for much longer.

@ironlungman Episode 1 of Convos with Paul! We will be responding to comments and questions about Paul’s life, his polio, and life in an iron lung! Please be positive ?? #PaulAlexander #poliopaul #ironlung #conversationswithpaul ? Chopin Nocturne No. 2 Piano Mono - moshimo sound design

Paul not only survived for seven decades but learned to adapt to life inside an iron lung, with the help of his family and a therapist. In addition to completing his schooling at home, he learned how to draw, write and paint without using his hands. He wrote his 2020 memoir, Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung, by typing into a computer using a pencil placed in his mouth, according to his TikTok.

TikTok / Paul Alexander

Paul obtained a bachelor's degree and law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he lived in a dorm, and ultimately worked as a lawyer for 30 years.

@ironlungman Replying to @jyoung Being positive can be hard if you let your circumstances control your attitude! I like to think of all the amazing people I have in my life! #conversationswithpaul #ironlung #poliopaul #PaulAlexander #QandA ? ??????? - ???Dicey

Over the past couple of months, he shared his thoughts and answered questions about his condition on social media, where he nicknamed himself "Polio Paul."

"For years and years and years, I've been locked in this machine and cannot get out," he said in a TikTok in February. "Sometimes it's desperate, because I can't touch someone. My hands don't move. And no one touches me, except in rare occasions, which I cherish."

Despite his difficult life, Paul maintained an optimistic outlook.

"Being positive is a way of life for me," he said in a video shared in January. "There's a great purpose in being positive. I've seen so many people suffer in my life and I learned not to let that bring me down but try to contribute something good for that person."

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