That people with disabilities are doing everything that people without disabilities are doing, all over the world? Let’s look at one of them today.
Dr. Paul Alexander
Thanks to the availability of the polio vaccine, its effects are now rarely felt. However, Paul Alexander knows all too well what polio can do.
Paul Alexander was just six years old in 1952 in the early days of the polio epidemic, when there was no vaccine. He talked to “The Guardian” in 2020, for the piece they did about him, about coming in from playing in the backyard one day because his neck and head hurt, and about how his mother ordered him to bed.
Five days later, Paul was paralyzed to the point where he couldn’t speak, swallow or cough.
Three days later, after an emergency tracheotomy to save his life, Paul woke up in an iron lung – a metal cylinder from that encases all of a person’s body but the head, doing the work of breathing for them. A motor powers a set of leather bellows to suck the air out of the cylinder, forcing the lungs to expand as negative pressure creates a vacuum. As air is pumped back in, the pressure changes again, and the lungs deflate. Many children with polio couldn’t leave their iron lung while recovering from polio, and Paul remained in his for years after recovery because the ability to breathe on his own didn’t return.
The ability to breathe on his own didn’t return naturally, that is. With the help of a coach from the March of Dimes, Paul taught himself to breathe – for very short periods at first, then for longer and longer, until he could stay out of his iron lung for short periods. Making those short periods count, Paul became the first person to graduate from his Dallas, Texas, high school without going to class. Since that day, Paul has:
- Graduated university
- Graduated law school and practiced as a lawyer (using a wheelchair) for several decades
- Lived a full life – seen the ocean, fallen in love, lived alone, and fought for disability rights.
At age 74, Paul is now back in the iron lung full-time, but determined to live life on his terms. He told “The Guardian“:
“I think it’s why I fight so hard, because there’s people standing there with the gall to tell me what I’m going to do with my life…You have no right to tell me what to do. You should get down on your knees and thank God it wasn’t you.”Paul Alexander
We agree, Dr. Alexander.
Read The Guardian’s Piece on Paul Alexander
Listen to Rotary e-Club of Innovation’s Interview with Paul Alexander