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Anti-Vaxers and the Possible Return of the Iron Lung

In an article titled "The Last of the Iron Lungs," Gizmodo gives a fascinating yet chilling look at the lives of the remaining polio victims dependent on iron lungs. One of the common refrains throughout the piece and echoed by the polio victims is the fear that anti-vaxers will usher in a new polio epidemic. In that eventuality, the article's title will be proven false. If anti-vaxers have their way, the iron lung may cease to be a relic of a bygone tragic era.

Among the polio victims featured in the article, Paul Alexander, 70, became a successful lawyer despite being confined to an iron lung for most of the day. Writer Jennings Brown explains: "Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was 6, is almost entirely paralyzed below the neck but that hasn’t stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer."

"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 told Gizmodo. "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?"

According to the article, "Alexander hasn’t been to a trial in a few years now as it has become nearly impossible for him to get out of the iron lung for a few hours like he used to do when he went to court and represented clients in a wheel chair."

Alexander's story is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. To be confronted with the unbreakable human spirit is uplifting. Alexander's life is one that deserves to be praised as an example of grit, hard work, and the constant refusal to allow oneself to be defined by negative and even tragic circumstances.

On the other hand, watching him labor to breathe inside the huge, iron contraption is a reminder of how some of our fellow humans have been asked to bear a burden that is incomprehensibly heavy. Regardless of his amazing accomplishments, Paul Alexander had his life upended by polio. As a six-year-old boy, he lost the ability to run and play and even to breathe on his own. Polio robbed him of a life filled with feeling sand between his toes, having tree branches rub roughly against his hands as he climbs among the leaves, and the feel of the mighty surf waging war against his sand castles. No doubt, and based on his own words, Paul Alexander would've loved to have had access to the polio vaccine that didn't come to America until 1955.