Image by GoFundMe

A 78-year-old man who had been living inside an iron lung since surviving polio in the 1950s has passed away.

As CBS News reports, Paul "Polio Paul" Alexander garnered a huge following on social media, getting millions of views on TikTok as he answered questions about his unusual life.

The medical device didn't stop Alexander from becoming a lawyer and opening his own successful practice. He also published a book about his life.

Iron lungs were invented in the 1920s to keep a negative pressure, using bellows to draw air into the lungs of individuals suffering from polio and other debilitating diseases resulting in paralysis.

In the early 1950s, Alexander contracted the disease during one of the country's worst outbreaks, NPR reports, and only survived due to a last-minute tracheotomy.

Throughout his life, he used a rod to turn pages of books and type on a keyboard, allowing him to progress through an entire education and eventually get through law school.

According to NPR, Alexander did for years learn how to spend hours at a time outside the iron lung. However, ever since the start of the pandemic, Alexander couldn't make it outside for more than five minutes, per The Guardian.

According to Guinness World Records, he was the longest-surviving iron lung patient.

Iron lungs are a rare, surviving relic of a bygone era. Martha Lillard, a woman who has also been confined to an iron lung for more than 65 years, recalled back in 2021 that she was struggling to find replacement parts to keep her iron lung respirator functioning properly.

Most recently, a GoFundMe was created to help Alexander out in light of being "taken advantage of" by healthcare professionals.

"I am so [grateful] to everybody who donated to my brother's fundraiser," his brother, Philip told CBS News. "It allowed him to live his last few years stress-free."

"It is absolutely incredible to read all the comments and know that so many people were inspired by Paul," he added. "I am just so grateful."

More on polio: Henrietta Lacks' Family Is Finally Getting Paid by the Biotech Company That Stole Her Cells

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