Lawyer, Author and TikTok Star Spent 72 Years in an Iron Lung

After he was paralyzed by polio at age 6, Paul Alexander was confined for much of his life to a yellow iron lung that kept him alive. He was not expected to survive after that diagnosis, and even when he beat those odds, his life was mostly constrained by a machine in which he could not move.

But the toll of living in an iron lung with polio did not stop Mr. Alexander from going to college, getting a law degree and practicing law for more than 30 years. As a boy, he taught himself to breathe for minutes and later hours at a time, but he had to use the machine every day of his life.

He died on Monday at 78, according to a statement by his brother, Philip Alexander, on social media.

He was one of the last few people in the United States living inside an iron lung, which works by rhythmically changing air pressure in the chamber to force air in and out of the lungs. And in the final weeks of his life, he drew a following on TikTok by sharing what it had been like to live so long with the help of an antiquated machine.

It was unclear what caused Mr. Alexander’s death. He had been briefly hospitalized with the coronavirus in February, according to his TikTok account. After he returned home, Mr. Alexander struggled with eating and hydrating as he recovered from the virus, which attacks the lungs and can be especially dangerous to people who are older and have breathing problems.

Mr. Alexander contracted polio in 1952, according to his book, “Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung.” He was quickly paralyzed, and doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas put him in an iron lung so that he could breathe.

“One day I opened my eyes from a deep sleep and looked around for something, anything, familiar,” Mr. Alexander said in his book, which he wrote by putting a pen or pencil in his mouth. “Everywhere I looked was all very strange. Little did I know that each new day my life was unavoidably set on a path that would become unimaginably strange and more challenging.”

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