Paul Alexander, now 76 years old, has lived a life that most people can only imagine. Since the age of six, he has relied on an iron lung to survive, making him one of the few remaining individuals in the world still using this outdated respirator. Despite his unique circumstances, Paul has never allowed his limitations to define him and has lived a remarkably full life.

“I refuse to accept anyone else’s limitations on my life. My life is incredible,” Paul proudly states.

Paul’s journey with polio began when he was just a young child in 1946. He suddenly fell ill and, despite being a vibrant and active child, his condition rapidly worsened. His parents rushed him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with polio, a highly contagious and debilitating infection. Paul’s symptoms included fatigue, fever, muscle pain, and vomiting. In more severe cases, polio can cause paralysis and even death.

Doctors initially believed Paul was beyond saving and pronounced him dead. However, another doctor saw potential and performed an emergency tracheotomy, followed by placing Paul inside the iron lung.

“I woke up days later surrounded by other children in iron lungs. I couldn’t move, not even a finger. It was a terrifying experience,” Paul recalls.

The iron lung, invented in the late 1920s, was the first device designed to ventilate a human being. The machine creates a negative pressure chamber that draws air into the patient’s lungs, helping them breathe. Paul spent 18 long months inside the metal canister, surrounded by rows of other children fighting for their lives. In 1952 alone, nearly 58,000 people, primarily children, contracted polio in the United States, with over 3,000 fatalities.

While many might have given up hope, Paul’s will to live only grew stronger. Doctors would pass by his iron lung, uttering phrases like “He’s going to die today” or “He shouldn’t be alive.” Fuelled by their skepticism, Paul was determined to prove them wrong.

And prove them wrong he did!

In 1954, Paul was finally discharged from the hospital, but his life would never be the same again. He faced social stigma and felt the discomfort of others around him due to his reliance on the iron lung.

However, with the help of a therapist named Mrs. Sullivan, Paul slowly began to regain control over his life. Mrs.

Sullivan made a deal with him: if Paul could breathe without the iron lung for three minutes using a technique called “frog-breathing,” she would get him a puppy. It was a tough challenge, but within a year, Paul was spending more and more time outside the iron lung.

At 21, Paul achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first person to graduate from a Dallas high school without ever physically attending class. He then set his sights on college, facing numerous rejections due to his condition.

Eventually, Southern Methodist University accepted him on two conditions: that he receive the polio vaccine and that a fraternity be responsible for him. Paul not only graduated but went on to attend law school at the University of Texas at Austin. He passed the bar exam and became a successful lawyer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Even after enjoying a 30-year-long career as a lawyer, Paul’s thirst for life never waned. He authored a book entirely on his own, typing each word with a pen attached to a stick.

Remarkably, Paul is believed to be one of the last living individuals still using an iron lung. Although ventilators much more advanced than the iron lung have been available for decades, Paul has chosen to remain in his metal chamber. When his iron lung almost broke down seven years ago, he turned to abandoned machines and spare parts to keep it running.

Paul, who has outlived his parents and older brother, is now working on a second book, a testament to his determination and resilience.

Paul’s story is one of inspiration, defying the odds, and embracing life’s challenges. His remarkable journey teaches us that the only limits we face are the ones we place on ourselves. Let us share his story with our friends and family so that others may be inspired by his courage and tenacity.