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Paul Alexander, Who Lived in an Iron Lung for 70 Years, Dies at 78 After Contracting COVID-19

Alexander's social media manager shared at the end of February that he had contracted COVID-19 and been "rushed to the emergency room"

<p>GoFundMe</p> Paul Alexander

GoFundMe

Paul Alexander

A man known for living his life in an iron lung for over 70 years after contracting polio as a child has died.

Paul Alexander, also known as “The Man in the Iron Lung,” died on Monday at the age of 78, according to a GoFundMe created by Christopher Ulmer, who met and interviewed Alexander in 2022. Ulmer shared a statement from Alexander’s brother who expressed his gratitude to people who had donated to the GoFundMe campaign since it began in 2022.

“It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free,” Philip Alexander wrote. “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.”

On February 26, Alexander’s social media manager shared in a TikTok video that Alexander had been “rushed to the emergency” room after testing positive for COVID-19 the previous week. He noted that was “really, really dangerous” for someone “in his condition.”

<p>Everett/Shutterstock</p> Stock photo of nurses attending to a room full of patients in iron lungs

Everett/Shutterstock

Stock photo of nurses attending to a room full of patients in iron lungs

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“Fortunately they have an iron lung out in the hospital just for him and he was able to come home this weekend, but unfortunately, he’s still kind of weak,” he continued. “He’s got some confusion still going around. He’s been struggling to eat and hydrate, so for that reason we’ll be holding off on the videos for a little bit longer.”

He captioned the video, “Please keep Paul in your thoughts and prayers ❤️🙏.”

Alexander, who is from Texas, contracted polio in 1952 at the age of 6 and was paralyzed from the neck down, per The Independent. After being hospitalized, he woke up and found himself inside of an iron lung, which is a respirator that works a person’s diaphragm.

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<p>Iron lung (c. 1933) used to breathe for polio patients until 1955 when polio vaccine became available is located in the Mobile Medical Museum, Mobile, Alabama (</p> Stock image of an iron lung

Iron lung (c. 1933) used to breathe for polio patients until 1955 when polio vaccine became available is located in the Mobile Medical Museum, Mobile, Alabama (

Stock image of an iron lung

However, his condition did not stop him from living. He eventually learned how to breathe on his own for small amounts of time outside of the iron lung, according to a 2020 profile by The Guardian.

Alexander also went on to graduate from a high school in Dallas at the age of 21, becoming the first person to do so without physically attending class, and was later accepted into the University of Texas at Austin where he studied law, per the outlet.

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Alexander graduated with his law degree and became a lawyer in Dallas and Fort Worth, while using a modified wheelchair that held his body upright, to attend court room sessions. He also became a published author.

As he grew older, Alexander became confined to using the iron lung again full-time, and had several health problems, including a respiratory infection and pain in his legs every time they moved, per The Guardian.

In January, he began sharing his story online on TikTok with people who were curious about his life. He answered questions about how he got his law degree and about living in an iron lung. In one of his videos he said that he still had some “goals and dreams” to accomplish.

“Paul, you will be missed but always remembered,” Ulmer wrote. “Thanks for sharing your story with us.”

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