Polio sounds like some sort of medieval disease of the past, however there are some people who are currently relying on unwieldy machines called iron lungs to keep them alive.
Paul Alexander, a 70-year-old Texan man, has been living inside an iron lung machine for 60 years after contracting polio at the age of six.
In 2015, Nick Isenberg posted a video of Paul in his iron lung in an attempt to get help to maintain it because companies have stopped making the parts for his seemingly outdated machine.
Speaking to Gizmodo, Paul said:
There are only two or three of us left. I’ve tried all the ventilators available and this one is the best. It feels like a more natural way of breathing.
When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung
I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what’s that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here.
Iron lungs, or a negative pressure ventilator, is a nearly-obsolete machine which helps a person to breath on their own in a normal manner when muscle control is lost.
It was invented in 1832 and the first of these devices was said to be widely used in 1928. Originally, it was powered by an electric motor with air pumps from two vacuum cleaners.
The air pumps changed the pressure inside a rectangular, airtight metal box, pulling air in and out of the lungs.
Paul, who spends nearly every moment in his iron lung in the centre of his living room, continued:
Once you live in an iron lung forever, it seems like, it becomes such a part of your mentality. Like if somebody touches the iron lung—touches it—I can feel that. I can feel the vibration go through the iron lung.
If there’s a slight bit of a vibration that occurs as the result of the mechanics—worn out the fan belt or it needs grease or anything like that—it tends to change the breath slightly. Yep, the iron lung’s a part of me, I’m afraid.
Paul contracted polio in 1952 and is almost entirely paralysed below the neck, but it didn’t stop him going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer.
Sadly it’s close to impossible for Paul to make it to a trial, as he can’t leave the iron lung for a few hours and represent clients in a wheel chair like he used to.
These days, a polio vaccination is offered as part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination programme in the UK and is given via injection in five separate doses.
Alexander said if he had children, he’d make sure they were vaccinated, explaining:
Now, my worst thought is that polio’s come back. If there’s so many people who’ve not been—children, especially—have not been vaccinated… I don’t even want to think about it.
Thanks to the anti-polio vaccine, polio has been widely wiped out in Western society, with the disease now only regularly found in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Even then, only 37 cases in total were reported last year.
Paul is set to release his memoirs in the future.