The Last Few Polio Survivors – Last of the Iron Lungs | Gizmodo

Published by : Gizmodo
Paul Alexander is one of the last few remaining polio survivors that depend on iron lungs—half-century-old machines that force inhabitants to breathe. I met Alexander a few times in his small house in Dallas. He spends nearly every moment in his iron lung in the center of his living room, which is decorated with degrees, awards, pictures of family, and a drawing of the Scottish folk singer Donovan, who had polio. When people enter the front door a few feet away from him, he usually greets them with a warm upside-down smile, reflected in the mirror above his head.

One of the times I visited Alexander, I walked in on him editing a memoir that’s set to be published in a few months. He types and answers the phone with his mouth, using a capped pen attached to a plastic wand he clenches with his teeth. During another visit, his friend and mechanical savior Brady Richards stopped by to check in on Alexander.

Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was 6, is almost entirely paralyzed below the neck but that hasn’t stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer. “When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung,” he told me. “I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what’s that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here?”

Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was 6, is almost entirely paralyzed below the neck but that hasn’t stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer. “When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung,” he told me. “I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what’s that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here?”

-Jennings Brown

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