Paul Alexander, 76, has lived a life unlike many others. For the majority of his life, he’s lived with an iron lung, and he’s one of the last people in the world still using the respirator which dates back to the 1928.
Despite his unusual circumstances, he’s lived an incredibly full life and he’s never accepted anything less.
“I am not going to accept from anybody their limitations on my life. Not gonna do it. My life is incredible.”
When Paul was just six years old he ran into family’s home in a suburb of Dallas, Texas and told his mother he wasn’t feeling well.
“Oh my God, not my son,” Paul recalled his mother saying.
Following doctor’s orders, he spent the next several days in bed recovering, but the boy clearly had polio, and he was not getting better. Less than a week after he started feeling sick he couldn’t hold anything nor could he swallow or breathe.
His parents finally rushed to the hospital where he joined countless other children experiencing similar symptoms.
Before vaccines were available for polio, more than 15,000 people were paralyzed from the virus.
Paul was examined by a doctor and pronounced dead, but then another doctor took a look at him and gave him another chance at life.
The second doctor performed an emergency tracheotomy, and following the surgery, Paul was placed inside an iron lung.
When he eventually woke up, three days later, he was among several rows of children also encased in iron lungs.
“As far as you can see, rows and rows of iron lungs. Full of children,” he said, according to The Guardian.
He spent 18 months inside the metal canister recovering from the initial infection. While some may have given up their will to live, it only fueled Paul’s will.
He would hear doctors say, He’s going to die today” or “He shouldn’t be alive” whenever they passed by him, and he wanted to prove them wrong.
And that’s exactly what he did!
In 1954 he was discharged from the hospital, but he quickly learned his life was drastically different than before.
“People didn’t like me very much back then,” he said during a video interview in 2021. “I felt like they were uncomfortable around me.”
But with the help of a therapist named Mrs. Sullivan, who visited him twice a week, little by little his life began to improve. His therapist made a deal with him that if he could “frog-breathe,” a technique where you trap air in your mouth by flattening your tongue and opening your throat, without the iron lung for three minutes she’d get him a puppy.
It was hard work, but within a year Paul was able to spend more and more time outside of the iron lung.
When he was 21 he became the first person to graduate a Dallas high school – with honors! – without ever physically attending class. He then set his sights on college, and after several rejections, he was accepted to Southern Methodist University.
“They said I was too crippled and did not have the vaccination,” he recalled. “Two years of tormenting them, they accepted me on two conditions. One, that I take the polio vaccine, and two that a fraternity would be responsible for me.”
He went on to graduate from Southern Methodist University and then attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin. He passed the bar and became a lawyer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“And I was a pretty damn good one too!”
Even after a 30-year long career in the courtroom, he continued to keep busy by writing a book, which he typed all by himself using a pen attached to a stick.
He’s also working on a second book!
Now the 76-year-old is once again confined to an iron lung around the clock, and he is one of only a few who are still using one.
Paul said he’s been able to live such a fulfilling life because he “never gave up.”
“I wanted to accomplish the things I was told I couldn’t accomplish,” he said, “and to achieve the dreams I dreamed.”
Paul is definitely an inspiration. His determination shows that the only limits are the limits we place on ourselves.
Please share his story with all your friends and family to inspire others.