Paul Alexander, a 76-year-old man who has spent most of his life confined to an iron lung, exemplifies how the only limitations we impose on ourselves.
Paul recalls coming home one day when he was about six years old and telling his mother that he didn’t feel well. Paul had been a normal child up until that point. He was animated and enjoyed being around other children. “Oh my God, not my son,” Paul remembered his mother saying.
He couldn’t understand what was wrong or what was going on because he was too young to understand that he had contracted polio, a contagious viral illness that causes nerve injury, paralysis, difficulty breathing, and sometimes death in its most severe form.
Children who appear to have recovered completely can experience new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults 15 to 40 years later, known as post-polio syndrome.
Paul’s condition deteriorated over a few days. His parents rushed him to the hospital because he had a fever and muscle pain. He wasn’t alone there. Unfortunately, many children who had contracted the virus were waiting to be treated, even though there is no known cure.
Paul was initially declared dead, but another doctor approached him and decided to perform an emergency tracheotomy. He was placed inside an iron lung immediately following surgery.
Iron lungs were invented in the early 1920s. Originally known as the “Drinker respirator,” this mechanical respirator encloses most of a person’s body and varies the air pressure in the enclosed space to help stimulate breathing.
“I had no idea what had happened. I had all kinds of fantasies about dying. I kept asking myself, Is this what death is like? Is this a casket? “Or have I gone to a bad place?” the Texas native asked As It Happens host Carol Off in 2017. “I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. Not even a single finger. I tried to feel something to figure it out, but I couldn’t. So it was a little strange.”
After spending 18 months inside the machine, Paul began working with a therapist named Mrs. Sullivan, who taught him how to breathe again using the ‘frog-breathe’ technique.
Paul could spend more time outside the iron lung than he had previously.
Paul not only went to school but also graduated from Southern Methodist University and then went to law school at the University of Texas at Austin, where he passed the bar exam and became a lawyer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “And I was a pretty good one as well!” Paul stated.
“They said I was too crippled and didn’t have the vaccination,” Paul recalled his time as a student. After two years of tormenting them, they agreed to accept me on two conditions. One that I get the polio vaccine, and two, that a fraternity will look after me.”
Paul had a long and successful career as a lawyer, and he even wrote a book.
According to reports, he is the last person to use the iron lung.
“I’ve traveled with it, putting it in a truck and taking it with me. I went to college with it and lived in a dorm. “Everyone was shocked,” he said.
When his machine was about to break down, Paul begged people to assist him in repairing it. Fortunately, because they were no longer in use, he could locate spare parts. “There were a lot of people who had polio and died.
What happened to the iron lung? I’ve discovered them in barns. I discovered them in garages. I found them in thrift stores. “It wasn’t much, but it was enough to scrounge [for] parts,” he explained.
Despite his condition, Paul claims that his life has been fulfilling and that he is pleased with how things have turned out for him. “I am not going to accept anyone’s limitations on my life. I’m not going to do it. “My life is incredible,” says this inspiring man.