Paul Alexander, The Iron Lung Man Dies At 78 After Spending 70 Years Living Inside Iron Tank

Paul Alexander, the man who lived in an iron lung for more than 70 years, has died at the age of 78. 

Alexander died on Monday, March 11, a fundraiser for his healthcare confirmed without providing further details. 

Writing on Alexander’s GoFundMe page, Christopher Ulmer, organiser and disability-rights activist, said on Tuesday, March 12: “Paul Alexander, ‘The Man in the Iron Lung’, passed away yesterday. 

“After surviving polio as a child, he lived over 70 years inside of an iron lung. In this time Paul went to college, became a lawyer, and a published author.

His story travelled wide and far, positively influencing people around the world. 

“Paul was an incredible role model that will continue to be remembered.”

Alexander spent seven decades in the iron lung machine after contracting polio in 1952 at the age of six. The infection left him paralysed from the neck down. It also made him unable to breathe by himself so he had to rely on an iron lung machine to breathe for the rest of his life.

For over 70 years, he lived inside the tank that aided his breathing.

Despite his predicament, Alexander became a published author and lawyer.

At 21, he became the first person to graduate from a high school in Dallas without ever attending class in person. 

He was accepted into Southern Methodist University in Dallas, after much difficulty with university administration and then got into law school at the University of Texas, Austin. 

He pursued his dreams of becoming a trial lawyer and represented clients in court in a three-piece suit and a modified wheelchair that held his paralysed body upright. 

He also staged a sit-in for disability rights and published his own memoir, titled “Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung”.

The 155-page memoir was carefully crafted and took five years to complete.

Paul wrote each word with a pen attached to a stick in his mouth. 

He celebrated his 78th birthday on January 30, 2024, after managing to outlive both of his parents, his brother and even his original iron lung, which began leaking air in 2015 but was repaired by a mechanic Brady Richards.

The ventilator, a large yellow metal box, requires patients to lie down inside, with the device fastened tightly around their neck. It works by creating a vacuum to mechanically draw in oxygen to the lungs for patients whose central nervous system and respiratory function were affected by polio. 

While in the hospital, doctors tried to get Paul to breathe on his own, turning off the machine and forcing him out, but it wouldn’t take long for him to turn blue and pass out.

Despite the availability of more modern ventilators, Paul decided to continue using the iron lung machine because he was used to it and other devices also required intensive surgery. 

Over his lifetime, Alexander set out to achieve his dreams, without letting the device get in his way. 

He fulfilled his desire to travel on planes, live independently, pray in church, visit the ocean, and fall in love. 

While at university, Alexander met Claire, who he later became engaged to. However, her mother forbade him from speaking to her daughter.

In later life, Alexander built a close relationship with Kathy Gaines, who became his caregiver. Gaines, who was legally blind from type-1 diabetes, stepped in to help after Alexander graduated law school, supporting him for more than three decades. 

Alexander said the pair “grew together” and she became his arms and legs.

Many have taken to various social media platforms to mourn Alexander, as they remembered him for smiling and being inspiring all through his life.