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“The man with the iron lung” Paul Alexander dies at 78

American Paul Alexander, who survived polio and became known as “the man with the iron lung”, died Tuesday at the age of 78.

Alexander contracted polio in 1952 when he was 6 years old and the disease left him paralyzed from the neck down.

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He was also unable to breathe independently, which led doctors to place him in a metal cylinder – or artificial lung – where he would spend the rest of his life.

Despite his disability, Alexander managed to graduate in law, practice law and publish several books.

“Paul Alexander, ‘the man with the iron lung,’ passed away yesterday,” said a statement posted Wednesday on his fundraising website.

“After surviving polio as a child, he lived for more than 70 years inside an iron lung. During this time, Paul studied at university, became a lawyer and published several books.

“His story traveled far and wide, positively influencing people around the world,” he adds.

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

In 1952, when he fell ill, doctors in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, operated on him and saved his life. But polio meant his body could no longer breathe on its own.

The answer was to place him in the so-called iron lung: a machine that envelops the person up to the neck and allows them to breathe.

Iron lungs were used for polio patients who lost the ability to breathe. (GET IMAGES).

The lung, which he called the “old iron horse,” was powered by a bellows that sucked air from the cylinder, forcing his lungs to expand and suck air in through his nose.

When the air returned, the same reverse process caused his lungs to empty and expel the air, compressing his chest.

That way The artificial lung imitated the physiological action of breathing.

After years, Alexander finally learned to breathe on his own, so he was able to leave the lung for short periods of time.

Like most polio survivors placed in iron lungs, He was not expected to live long.

But he lived for decades, long after the invention of the polio vaccine in the 1950s had virtually eradicated the disease in the Western world.

Alexander graduated from high school and later attended Southern Methodist University. In 1984, he received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Two years later he was admitted to the Bar and practiced for decades.

“I knew that if I was going to do something with my life, it would have to be something mental”he told the newspaper Guardian in 2020.

That year, he published a memoir that reportedly took him eight years to complete with the help of a plastic stick to type on a keyboard and dictate to a friend.

Due to the development of more modern respiratory therapies and the eradication of polio in most of the Western world, iron lungs became obsolete in the 1960s when they were replaced by ventilators.

But Alexandre continued living in the cylinder because, according to him, he was used to it.

It was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the person who lived longest in an iron lung.

Source: Elcomercio

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