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PHOTO: Paul Alexander Living with Iron Lung After Contracting Polio Since 1952

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Paul Alexander is one of the last people living in an iron lung. He contracted polio in 1952 at the age of six. He has been using the iron lung for over 70 years, and is currently 77 years old.
Alexander was almost on the brink of death when a doctor noticed he wasn’t breathing and rushed him into an iron lung. This quick action saved his life, but it was just the beginning of his lifelong relationship with the machine.

The iron lung is a large, cumbersome, and very expensive machine that saved the lives of thousands of polio victims through artificial breathing, as polio is known to cause paralysis of respiratory muscles.

In 1954, two years after he contracted polio, Alexander began to teach himself glossopharyngeal breathing with the help of the March of Dimes and a physical therapist named Mrs. Sullivan. This technique allowed him to leave the iron lung for gradually increasing periods of time. It was a significant achievement, demonstrating his will to regain some level of independence.

Despite his physical limitations, Alexander pursued education with fervor. He was one of Dallas Independent School District’s first homeschooled students and learned to memorize instead of taking notes.

His academic achievements are a testament to his determination and intellect. At 21, he graduated second in his class from W.W. Samuell High in 1967, becoming the first person to graduate from a Dallas high school without physically attending a class. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1978, then a Juris Doctor in 1984.

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