“Polio is a horrible disease, I cannot move. A lot of humanity knows nothing about polio, they don’t even know what it is,” says Paul Alexander, one of Polio survivors who spends nearly all day in his life inside his iron lung at home.
The 71-year-old polio survivor, who lives in Dallas, was only six years old when he was caught with polio disease in 1952, one of the worst outbreak years in U.S history. He is one of few people (polio survivors) left in U.S. using iron lung.
It paralyzed Paul from the neck down. He could not move or walk at all. He has been using the massive mechanical respirator for 65 years.
The machine helps him breathe by using negative pressure to force his body to take in air.
He lives alone but has a caregiver who helps him with tasks he can’t do on his own like shaving or turning his machine on and off.
Alexander, who contracted polio in 1952 when he was six, said he spent nearly every moment in his iron lung. He answers the phone and types using a plastic wand attached to his mouth.
Paul said he was just like any other normal kids when he first contracted polio. But after a while, he began to feel a little bit ill.
He said he was playing outside his house and then felt like going back inside. But he remembered the look on his mom’s face when she saw him.
“Oh, my God,” his mom knows instantly when she saw his face.
He lost everything in the next five days. He couldn’t move and walk. And he couldn’t breathe on the last day. His diaphragm was destroyed which left him in the iron lung for the rest of his life.
Until today, he still relies on a relic of that dark time. He can only leave the device for a few hours at a time, uncomfortably.
The breath that comes out of his iron lung is voluntary, so he has to think about it, how and try to breathe, unlike how normal people breathe.
He said it was really exhausting for him.
He gradually overcame fears of breathing on his own and learned to gulp for air, “kind of like a fish,” he says.
“I was using my throat muscles and my tongue to gulp in-breath and swallow it into my lungs.”
But that did not stop Paul from living his life. He went to law school and passed the bar exam.
He had thousands of clients who didn’t worry about the iron lung.
He actually, became an inspiration to his clients. He said they were not taken aback after seeing him breathing in his iron lung.
“Instead, they thought that if I could do this, then, sure as hell, I would be one heck of a lawyer.”
The last iron lung was manufactured about half a century ago so he was struggling to find people who can repair the antique
His friend was helping him, to show how desperate he was that his iron lung was falling apart in hopes that a machinist who knew how to help would see it.
A local mechanical engineer Brady Richards came forward in 2015, which made Paul felt much relief. According to him, the machine used by Paul was getting older and shabby.
Paul said, “My life would be hard without Brady’s aid because I have been looking for someone to help repair the antique all this while.”
Polio, a viral disease, usually affects children below five years. The virus attacks the nervous system and causes irreversible paralysis, usually of the legs.
Of those paralysed, 5-10% die when their breathing muscles are affected.
Polio makes its comeback in Malaysia after 27 years
It was just recently reported that a three-month-old boy from Tuaran, Sabah was admitted to the intensive care unit with poliomyelitis or polio.
The child was confirmed to be infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on Dec 6 this year.
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but needs respiratory support.
It was shocking, and the last documented case was in 1992 and the last outbreak was in 1977, with 121 cases due to wild polio.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Malaysia polio-free in 2000.
2nd December 2019 14:43