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Paul Alexander, 78-year-old Dallas man who lived in an iron lung for most of his life, dies

The inspiring journey of Paul Alexander, the Texas man who lived in an iron lung for over 70 years
The inspiring journey of Paul Alexander, the Texas man who lived in an iron lung for over 70 years 02:42

DALLAS – Paul Alexander, a North Texas man who lived in an iron lung for most of his life, has died.

According to his obituary, he died on March 11. He was 78. 

To the world, Dallas native Paul Alexander was known as "the man in the iron lung" or "polio Paul," but to his younger brother, Philip, Paul was a role model. 

"He wanted to change the world," said Philip Alexander. "He wanted to help people out. He wasn't going to leave [this world] until, in his mind, he did something grand."

Paul Alexander was diagnosed with polio in 1952 during an outbreak in Dallas at just 6 years old. The disease paralyzed him from the neck down and could not breathe on his own. Doctors put Paul Alexander in an iron lung, a mechanical respirator that controls the air pressure around his body to help his lungs expand.

A supportive group of family and friends made sure Paul Alexander kept breathing when his machine would lose power. He supported them by boosting their spirits with his positive outlook on life.

"Life is such an extraordinary thing."

"He was a person with or without the handicap. He liked everything else that we all have, he just had to do it a little differently with a little bit of help," Philip Alexander said.

Philip Alexander said his brother's life was all about adapting. Paul Alexander learned to write, type, and paint using only his mouth and a stick. He also didn't let his handicap slow down his academics. 

Paul Alexander
Paul Alexander Alexander family

Paul Alexander graduated with an economics degree from Southern Methodist University, earned a law degree from the University of Texas, passed the bar exam, practiced law in Dallas, was an advocate for polio research, and wrote a book.

In March 2024, the Guinness World Records declared Paul Alexander as the longest-living iron lung patient in history. 

"If [he] didn't have really strong positive parents, he would've never made it. If [he] didn't have family and close relations all these years, he never would've made it," says Philip Alexander.

Paul Alexander even took to social media, where he shared countless videos with messages of hope and joy, garnering thousands of followers across the world. 

His posts sometimes exposed his unrelenting hardship. 

"I love the sun, but I haven't felt it in a long time. It's lonely," Paul Alexander says in a TikTok video.

But his inspiring messages left a lasting impact on the outside world, like "just hold on because it'll get better."

A GoFundMe was created after Paul Alexander was taken advantage of by previous caregivers. The money went towards maintaining the Iron Lung, housing and healthcare.  

"I am so [grateful] to everybody who donated to my brother's fundraiser," his brother, Philip said. "It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free. 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."

A few weeks ago, his social media manager posted a video saying he was rushed to the emergency room and hospitalized after contracting COVID-19. He was then released from the hospital. 

Paul Alexander knew the virus would likely be fatal if he ever became infected. It eventually claimed his life. But not before he laid claim to a life well lived. 

"The night before he died he just opened his eyes and looked at me and said, 'This is perfect,'" Philip Alexander said.    

The iron lung helped keep Paul Alexander alive longer than anyone else ever, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. 

"Even at the end, I don't think he really realized what kind of effect he had," Philip Alexander adds with tears in his eyes, "He wants people to remember that you can get through any struggle and it's all [about] how you treat each other. That was his life's cause."

The Alexander family said Paul's funeral service will be held in Dallas next Wednesday, March 20. 

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