Paul Alexander Used an Iron Lung for Decades After Contracting Polio as a Child

“As he got older he had more difficulties in breathing outside the lung for periods of time so he really just retired back to the lung.”


Mar. 14 2024, Published 10:18 a.m. ET

Even though he was often confined to an iron lung, Paul Alexander became a widely known figure in part through his positive outlook and willingness to defy the limitations that had been imposed on his body. Following the news in March 2024 that Paul had died, many wanted to learn more about exactly why he was using an iron lung for so many years.

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An iron lung is a device that encloses most of a person's body and varies the air pressure in the tube to stimulate breathing. Because Paul used one for many decades, the device has come back into the public consciousness. Here's what we know about why Paul stayed in one for so much of his life.

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Why did Paul Alexander stay in the iron lung?

Paul was largely confined to the iron lung after he contracted polio as a child and was paralyzed from the neck down. He needed the iron lung to assist him with his breathing. Paul could get out of the iron lung after he trained himself to breathe on his own for part of the day. It was that training that ultimately helped him to lead a full life, which included earning a law degree and writing a book.

Using a stick in his mouth, Paul could even type on the computer and use the phone.

Daniel Spinks, one of Paul's longtime friends, explained that he had to spend more time in the iron lung as he got older.

“As he got older he had more difficulties in breathing outside the lung for periods of time so he really just retired back to the lung,” Daniel explained.

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Paul had become widely known online.

Paul's messages of optimism and positivity were infectious, and they attracted him a substantial following online. His TikTok account earned millions of views, and in some videos, you can listen to Paul discuss his outlook on life.

“Being positive is a way of life for me," Paul explains in one of the videos, even as he sits in the iron lung and the machine whirs in the background. Based on tributes that have come in for him, it seems Paul was the same way with those he knew.

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What was Paul Alexander's cause of death?

No official cause of death has been disclosed, but Paul was admitted to the hospital in Dallas after being diagnosed with COVID-19, so it seems like the virus may have had some role to play.

Paul was one of the last people to regularly use an iron lung in the U.S., in part because the machines are now largely discontinued.

He was one of the last of a generation of children who had to live in fear of polio. Thanks to a highly effective vaccine, the disease no longer spreads to nearly the same extent that it once did. Despite all Paul went through, it seems that he was grateful for the life he led.

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