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The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years

An American woman spent 61 years of her life living in an iron tube that breathed for her after poli...

An American woman spent 61 years of her life living in an iron tube that breathed for her after polio left her paralysed.

Martha Mason lay immobile in the tube - dubbed the iron lung - that worked as a type of ventilator, increasing and decreasing the air pressure to expand and contract her lungs because her own muscles were too weak.

She lay horizontal the 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head.

The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years
Martha Mason spent 61 years of her life living in an iron tube that breathed for her after polio left her paralysed. (She is pictured with professor and documentary filmmaker Mary Dalton, from Wake Forest University)

Martha Mason lay immobile in the tube - dubbed the iron lung - that worked as a type of ventilator, increasing and decreasing the air pressure to expand and contract her lungs because her own muscles were too weak

Ms Mason had had become paralysed at just 11 years old after suffering polio – very shortly after the disease had killed her brother Gaston, Oddity Central reports.

After her brother had been buried, it is said that she realised that she too had the symptoms but kept her fears to herself to avoid upsetting her parents.

In a book she wrote, “Breath: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung (thanks to the introduction of voice recognition software), she said: ‘I knew that I had polio. I didn’t want anyone else to know.

‘The day before I had heard Mother talking to a friend about the iron lung Gaston had been in. I knew I wouldn’t have that difficulty because I had excellent lungs.

In a video recorded before her death in 2009, Ms Mason said: '‘I often wonder in retrospect how my parents felt when I became ill – they just buried their only son [when this happened to me].

The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years
The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years

‘It was assumed by people in general and me too that both of my parents would outlive me. Doctors said I would live a year, at most, but here I am a long time later [thanks to the iron lung].

Those who have written about her life say her curiosity and desire to live as normal life as possible were the key to her longevity.

Despite her being in a situation most people would consider horrific, Ms Mason, who was born in 1937 and lived in Lattimore, North Carolina, graduated from high school with the highest hours and hosted dinner parties.

In the video, she said: ‘It [living like this] has become such a normal thing for me – I don’t even think about it – I really never give it a lot of thought.

The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years

The machine takes over from my diaphragm like a big bag of air. ‘There are other methods of ventilation , but I have chosen not to do that.’

Despite being permanently horizontal, she chose to remain in the machine, as she says it gave her freedom.

The iron lung let her breathe without tubes or incisions in her throat, or the need for hospital stays.

It also let her remain at home, living with the help of two aides.

Even when her mother’s health deteriorated in the years before her own death, Ms Mason insisted she stayed at home, and ran the household from the iron lung.
The Woman Who Lived in an Iron Lung For 61 Years

Paying tribute to her friend after her death, Mary Dalton said: 'She lived in this life-saving machine longer than anyone else in the world.

'At first the image and sound of the iron lung were distracting if not shocking, but soon after talking with Martha, the massive, metal cylinder became inconsequential because it was so greatly exceeded by her spirit.

'She told me that she survived for so many years – while so many others with the same disease died – because of the exceptional care she received from her parents and community, and because she has always been driven to learn.'

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