- Associated Press - Sunday, August 24, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - As a tow-headed 6-year-old, Paul Alexander took apart everything, including his mother’s blender, simply to understand how it worked. His father would be close behind, putting the pieces back together.

Alexander didn’t know at that time there would be a day he wouldn’t be able to take things apart, wouldn’t be able to run around in the mud, or do other rambunctious activities the average 6-year-old could do. Paralytic polio would place him in an iron lung, a machine that forces air into his lungs with help from a pressurized system, about a week after he had checked into a Dallas hospital in 1952 and shortly after he was prematurely pronounced dead.

Now Alexander, who is in his late 60s, is one of 10 people in the world who still live in an iron lung. He contracted the deadly illness toward the end of a major United States polio outbreak, and said his survival into his 60s wouldn’t have been possible without the good hearts and grace of others like those in the Waxahachie Rotary Club. The Rotarians spent a recent Saturday morning building a ramp to help Alexander transport his 1,200-pound lung to and from the hospital more easily.

It’s that same hospitality that saved his life in the hospital when he was first diagnosed.

And it’s that same hospitality that helped him to finish three different college degrees, including one to become a practicing lawyer, which is his current occupation.

“I remember walking into my mom’s kitchen one day and her turning around and saying, ‘Oh no,’ and I was like, ‘Mom, I know I’m muddy and dripping on the floor,’” Alexander told the Waxahachie Daily Light (http://bit.ly/1mnvQzK). “She said, ‘Paul go get a bath. Right now.’ After I got the mud off, she put me up in her bed and she knew instantly. Every parent in Dallas, and everywhere else, was so afraid that the polio epidemic was going to come see their child. So, she knew right away.”

Alexander was put into bed and given coloring books and crayons to keep him occupied. He said he spent the next week coloring as much as he could, as fast as he could. He didn’t know why, he said, except that he felt a compulsion to draw.

“Every day, I could do a little bit less,” he said. “Every day it was harder to hold onto the crayons.”

It was harder to move. It was harder to even sit up.

At one point, he could remember his father having to hold him up to keep him from falling off the toilet. Polio, which attacks the respiratory system and limb movement, paralyzed him from the neck down.

“It was like the devil going through my body,” Alexander said, crying. “Shooting all the lights out.”

Every day, he would get a little weaker, until the end of the week when doctors realized he wasn’t breathing. By the time his parents were able to get Alexander to the hospital, doctors pronounced him dead. They laid him aside, he said, with other children who hadn’t survived.

He doesn’t know how long he was there for when a doctor came by and re-examined him. The doctor noticed Alexander still had a fighting chance, picked him up in his arms and ran upstairs to place him in the iron lung.

He lay unconscious for several weeks later before he opened his eyes. He didn’t know if he had woken up in heaven or hell, he said, because he couldn’t move anything to figure out where he was and he couldn’t see anything because of a plastic cover hanging over the iron lung.

Only when he caught a glimpse of his mother between a small opening in the cover did he know everything was going to be all right, he said.

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