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Paul Alexander ― The Men In The Iron Lung

Paul Alexander ― The Men In The Iron Lung

The iron lung, also known as a tank ventilator, is a type of negative pressure ventilator (NPV), a mechanical respirator that encloses most of the body of a person and varies the pressure of the air in the enclosed space to stimulate breathing.

Paul Alexander, is the victim of the worst polio had to offer to children in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the age of six, he was completely paralyzed by the disease, his lungs stopped working, and he was literally thrown into the iron lung.

Paul Alexander is among the very few people who are still living in an iron lung. He contracted polio at the age of 6, but this did not stop him from receiving education at school, at university, and then working as a lawyer. He wants people to remember the profound and traumatic damage caused by the poliovirus.

For many parents, 1952 was riddled with fear. It was the worst year for polio in the U.S., with almost 60,000 cases reported across the country. Some cities shut down popular gathering venues—movie theaters, swimming pools, bars, bowling alleys. The virus most commonly affects children, entering the body through the mouth via tiny particles of contaminated feces or, more rarely, sneezing or cough droplets. It can lead to flu-like symptoms and has the potential to invade a person's spinal cord or brain, causing paralysis and possibly death.

Paul Alexander, who contracted polio in 1952 when he was just six-year-old. In the summer rain, Paul was playing outside. He didn't feel well, his neck hurt, and his body aches. Leaving his muddy shoes in the yard, Paul walked into the kitchen and let the door slam behind him. When her mother looked up at his face, she gasped as she knew what happened to paul. She made him run out and grab his shoes, then ordered him to go to bed.

Paul spent the first day in bed, filling in Roy Rogers' coloring books. The family kept Paul home after their family doctor suggested that Paul had a better chance of recovering from home than in a hospital, packed with sick children. But when the condition of the boy worsened over the next few days, it seemed that he wasn't among the lucky ones whose symptoms had eventually passed, as Paul could no longer hold a crayon, speak, swallow, or cough. His parents rushed to the hospital, where he underwent a tracheotomy to succumb to the congestion in his lungs that his paralyzed body could not shift, and put him in an iron lung.

Three days later, he woke up. His body was encased in a machine. For Paul torture was the next 18 months. Although he could not able to speak because of the tracheotomy. He lay in his own waste for hours because he could not tell the staff that he needed to be cleaned. He almost drowned in his own mucus.

Paul recovered from the initial infection, but he was almost completely paralyzed by polio from the neck down. Paul is fully dependent on a full-time caretaker and can only leave the machine for a few hours each day. When he's out of the iron lung, Paul needs to think consciously about breathing, which leaves him exhausted. The iron lung did what his diaphragm could no longer do for him. Paul lay flat on his back, his head resting on a pillow, and his body wrapped in a metal cylinder from the neck down.

In spite of this, Paul is an incredibly accomplished man. At the age of 21, he became the first person to graduate from Dallas High School without attending a class physically. He went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, then to Law School at the University of Texas in Austin. Paul was a lawyer in Dallas and Fort Worth for decades.

In 2015 Paul was forced to send a YouTube SOS video begging for help when his iron lung started to break down. Luckily, the hobbyist mechanic Brady Richards, who runs the Environmental Testing Laboratory, answered his call.

The lawyer, who contracted polio in 1952 when he was only six years old still alive, and for the second time in his life, living through the outbreak of a virus. 

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