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Meet The Last Man On Earth Who Uses An Iron Lung

Gizmo

A 71-year-old polio survivor is one of the last people on earth to still use an iron lung.

For the past 65 years, Paul Alexander has spent half of every day inside his yellow contraption.

"There are only two or three of us left," Alexander said in an interview with Gizmo. "I've tried all the ventilators available and this one is the best. It feels like a more natural way of breathing."

For those who are unaware of the machine, an iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator, which helps survivors breathe by drawing oxygen into their lungs by creating a vacuum.

According to the Centres for Disease Control, the 1950s had the worst outbreak of the disease, with more than 15,000 cases of paralysis recorded each year.  

While the anti-polio vaccine eradicated in the U.S. in 1979, the disease is still a rampant epidemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

For most people, the machine was only necessary for a couple of weeks, but those who suffered from permanent damage, it has become a indispensable part of their every day lives.

Despite the iron lung becoming an essential part of Alexander’s existence, he hasn’t let it stop him from achieving his life’s goals.

Alexander brought his with him to law school and became a successful lawyer. He’s travelled the world and is writing a memoir on his life with the iron lung, 3 Minutes For a Dog.

“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,” he said.

Unfortunately, manufactures have stopped producing the iron lung and there are very few mechanics that have the knowledge or tools to repair them.

"A lot of people who had polio and they're dead. What did they do with the iron lung? I've found them in barns. I found them in garages,” Alexander told CBC’sAs It Happens.

“I've found them in junk shops. Not much, but enough to scrounge [for] parts," Alexander said.

In 2015, Alexander published a video on Youtube, seeking out a skilled machinist who would be able to fix his iron lung.

Luckily for Alexander, Brady Richards was able to answer his prayers. Richards had a spare iron lung in his garage and was able to use parts of his old machine to repair Alexander’s.

Despite the need for refurbishment, Alexander said he personally believes the iron lung surpasses all modern technology, as they fail to give him the same quality of life.

"It's a rather simple machine," he said. "Give me electricity and I'm OK."

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