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NOTHING STOPPED HER: Woman in iron lung for 61 years lived life to the fullest

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Martha Mason of North Carolina became stricken with polio at the age of 11 years old. Sentenced for the rest of her days in an iron lung, a device that kept her breathing, Mason continued to live her life - throwing parties, writing books and generally living life to her fullest capacity.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Spending 61 years of her life living in an iron tube that breathed for her after polio left her paralyzed, Mason lay horizontal the seven-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head.

After her brother Gaston contracted polio and died, it is said that she realized that she too had the symptoms but kept her fears to herself to avoid upsetting her parents.   

"Breath: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung," Mason's book,  she confesses, "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."
 
As Mason said in a video recorded before her death in 2009, "I often wonder in retrospect how my parents felt when I became ill - they just buried their only son [when this happened to me]."

"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]."

Her longevity has been attributed to her curiosity and desire to live as normal life as possible.

Mason, who was born in 1937 and lived in Lattimore, North Carolina, graduated from high school with the highest hours and hosted dinner parties.

"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 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 as it helped 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.

Mason insisted she stay at home, even when her mother's health deteriorated in the years before her own death. Mason ran the household from the iron lung.

"She lived in this life-saving machine longer than anyone else in the world," longtime friend Mary Dalton said. "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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