Paul Alexander, “The Man In The Iron Lung”, Has Died

Paul Alexander, “The Man in the Iron Lung”, has passed away aged at age 78 after leading an incredible and inspiring life.

Alexander, affectionately known as “Polio Paul”, died on March 11, 2024, according to an update on his GoFundMe page that was raising money for his healthcare.

“I am so grateful to everybody who donated to my brother’s fundraiser,” said Philip, Alexander’s brother, according to the update.

“It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free. It will also pay for his funeral during this difficult time. It is absolutely incredible to read all the comments and know that so many people were inspired by Paul. I am just so grateful,” he added.

On February 27, a message on his TikTok said that Alexander had been rushed to hospital with COVID-19, which can be extremely serious for people with other health complications. However, it has not been specified whether his death was caused by the infection. 


It’s thought that Alexander was just one of two people in the US who lived inside an iron lung, a respiratory device that helps paralyzed survivors of polio breathe. 

He contracted polio at the age of six in the summer of 1952 when an outbreak swept through his hometown of Dallas, Texas. It would be another three years until an effective poliovirus vaccine was developed, so the infection spread like wildfire. The local eruption of cases in Dallas was part of the largest single outbreak of polio in US history, with nearly 58,000 cases reportedly across the country. 

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that can spread from person to person. In some cases, the pathogen can attack the central nervous system and destroy motor neurons, leading to paralysis. The paralysis is typically temporary, but around one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Alexander was one of those unfortunate few and was left unable to move his body from the neck down.

While the lungs of paralyzed polio survivors still work fine, they can struggle to breathe due to paralysis of their chest muscles and diaphragm. To overcome this problem, Alexander was placed in an “iron lung”, a machine that works by applying negative pressure on the patient inside. The mechanical respirator helps the patient inhale by pumping out of the machine, thereby allowing their chest to expand. As air is pumped back into the machine, this makes the patient exhale.

Alexander more-or-less lived the past 70 years inside the iron lung. He was able leave the chamber for two or three minutes thanks to a self-learned technique he called “frog breathing”, which involved gulping down mouthfuls of air using his throat muscles to force air into his lungs. However, this was not a long-term solution and he spent the overwhelming majority of his day laying horizontally inside the mechanical chamber. 

Despite his difficulties, Alexander studied law at the University of Texas and, in 1984, he passed the bar to become a lawyer. He also spent five years writing an autobiography – Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung – by typing into a computer using a pencil placed in his mouth.

In his last venture, Alexander joined TikTok to share stories and answer questions from his fans, which also helped to pay for his medical bills.

“Paul, you will be missed but always remembered. Thanks for sharing your story with us,” his GoFundMe page reads. 

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