DALLAS — A Texas man who spent most of his 78 years using an iron lung chamber and built a large following on social media, recounting his life from contracting polio in the 1940s to earning a law degree, has died.

Paul Alexander died Monday at a Dallas hospital, said Daniel Spinks, a longtime friend. He said Alexander had recently been hospitalized after being diagnosed with COVID-19 but did not know the cause of death.

Alexander was 6 when he began using an iron lung, a cylinder that encased his body as the air pressure in the chamber forced air into and out of his lungs. In recent years he had millions of views on his TikTok account.

“He loved to laugh,” Spinks said. “He was just one of the bright stars of this world.”

In one of his “Conversations With Paul” posts on TikTok, Alexander tells viewers that “being positive is a way of life for me” as his head rests on a pillow and the iron lung can be heard whirring in the background.

Spinks said Alexander’s positivity had a profound effect on those around him. “Being around Paul was an enlightenment in so many ways,” Spinks said.

Alexander, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1978 from the University of Texas and a law degree from the school in 1984, was a driven man who had a strong faith in God, Spinks said.

Spinks said they became friends when he took a job as Alexander’s driver and helper in 2000.

He said he would drive Alexander, who was paralyzed from the neck down, to the courthouse, and then push him to his court proceedings in his wheelchair. He said that at that time, Alexander could spend about four to six hours outside of an iron lung, and would be in an iron lung when he was at his office or home.

Spinks said that Alexander had learned how to “gulp air down his lungs” in order to be out of the iron lung for part of the day. Using a stick in his mouth, Alexander could type on a computer and answer the phone, Spinks said.

“As he got older he had more difficulties in breathing outside the lung for periods of time so he really just retired back to the lung,” Spinks said.

He only worked for Alexander for about a year but they remained friends, and Spinks said he was among the friends who helped maintain and repair Alexander’s iron lungs.

“There were a couple of close calls when his lung would break and I would rush out there and we would have to do some repairs on it,” Spinks said.

Spinks said that Alexander loved being interviewed, and had a passion to show that disabled people had a place in society.

Chris Ulmer, founder of Special Books By Special Kids, a social media platform that gives disabled people a way to share their stories, interviewed Alexander in 2022.

“Paul himself really loved inspiring people and letting them know that they are capable of great things,” Ulmer said.

“He just had such a vibrant and joyful energy around him that was contagious,” he said.

Polio was once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. The disease primarily affects children.

Vaccines became available starting in 1955. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a national vaccination campaign cut the annual number of U.S. cases to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s. In 1979, polio was declared eliminated in the U.S., meaning it was no longer routinely spread.

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