The early 20th century was dominated by technological advancements, especially in healthcare. One of the most successful inventions of the era was the iron lung, which enabled thousands of victims of respiratory diseases to breathe again.
Polio, in particular, was treated through the use of iron lungs. Whilst the disease has almost been completely eradicated thanks to the development of a vaccine in 1955, there were a number of deadly outbreaks in the 1940s and 50s.
Children were particularly susceptible to the disease, and the vast majority of people who required respiratory treatment using an iron lung were children. However, very few of these children continued using the device into their adult lives.
But one of the exceptions is 70-year-old Paul Alexander from Dallas, Texas, who has been using an iron lung since 1952.
Paul contracted polio when he was just five years old, and it left him with permanent respiratory damage.
The iron lung works by having patients lie inside it; the device is then tightly enclosed around their neck, creating an artificial vacuum which mechanically fills their lungs up with oxygen. It was not intended for long-term use.
Paul’s continued reliance on the iron lung has therefore not been without its problems. The devices have not been manufactured since the 1960s, and he was forced to issue an online plea for help in 2015 when his lung started to malfunction.
There are only 10 people left in the world who still use iron lungs, and they have to rely on costly and difficult-t0-obtain spare parts.