Obituaries

Paul Alexander ‘Polio Paul’ Who Lived In Iron Lung For 70 Years, Dies At 78

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  • Paul Alexander died on March 11 at the age of 78.
  • His death comes shortly after he contracted COVID-19.
  • Alexander had lived for 70 years in an iron lung after contracting polio when he was just six.

 

On March 11, Paul Alexander died. He was 78 when he passed away. News of his death came from a fundraiser dedicated to his health on Tuesday. Just a few months prior, Alexander had contracted COVID-19 and was rushed to the hospital.

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Alexander was nicknamed Polio Paul because of his difficult life spent in an iron lung since he was six years old. Despite being left paralyzed from the neck down after polio struck him in 1952, Alexander maintained a positive, hopeful outlook and self-published a memoir in 2020 called Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung.

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Paul Alexander left behind a legacy of hope and strength

Paul Alexander contracted polio when he was just six / YouTube screenshot

Christopher Ulmer, a friend of Alexander who set up a GoFundMe page for him in 2022, shared in a message to NPR, “Paul took a lot of pride in being a positive role model for others. More than anything I believe he would want others to know they are capable of great things.”

RELATED: Meet ‘Polio Paul’ One Of The Last Men Left With An Iron Lung

Technology modernized in favor of a positive-pressure ventilator, as opposed to the old system that uses negative pressure and bellows, but Alexander stuck to the iron lung, calling it his “old iron horse.” However, by 2019, Alexander contended with repeated infections that left him confined to the iron lung. But he found a way to do what he wanted, utilizing a rod to type on a keyboard to share his autobiography.

“My parents taught me to use my intelligence and my energy to be productive,” said Alexander. “I’ve never thought of myself as a cripple. That’s the word I choose to use because I think it covers the ground in most people’s perceptions. I’m crippled in most people’s minds, except mine. I’m Paul Alexander, human being.”

In defiance of expectations

Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung / Amazon

Paul Alexander was born on January 30, 1946, and was just six years old when he contracted polio. He fell victim to it during one of the worst periods of the outbreak. It left him paralyzed from the neck down, though as the years went on, as a student, Alexander could leave the device for short periods of time.

Alexander attended Southern Methodist University, then the law school at the University of Texas. He went on to become a lawyer and maintained his law career with the help of some caregivers and his own creativity, like when he would write notes by holding a pen in his mouth. He used his skills and experience to advocate for improved disability rights.

Ulmer, who is also an advocate, summarized Alexander by saying, “Paul was an incredible role model that will continue to be remembered.” His brother Phil further recalled Alexander as “just a brother, same as yours… loving, giving advice, scolding when necessary, and also a pain in the a— […] He commanded a room. What a flirt! He loved good food, wine, women, long conversations, and laughing. I will miss him so much.”

Rest in peace, Paul Alexander.

Alexander stuck with the iron lung, although it has since been replaced by new technology / YouTube screenshot

RELATED: Alan Alda Talks About His Experience Having Polio As A Kid

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