Martha Mason was born on May 31, 1937 in small-town North Carolina. When she was 11 years old, Martha realized she had polio, a dangerous and infectious disease that took the life of her brother. So as not to distress her parents further, Martha kept her illness a secret.
But soon, Martha was placed inside an iron lung, which is a medical ventilator and tube-like contraption that enables breathing when a person loses muscle control or natural breathing becomes impossible. Doctors said she only had one year to live — but saying Martha defied the odds would be an understatement.
For the next 60 years, Martha lived inside the iron lung. Not only did she live, but she prospered. Her mother and colleagues helped her through high school where she was top of her class. She graduated from two universities. She wrote for her local newspaper, dictating the words to her dedicated mom. In the mid 90s, Martha used a voice-activated computer to write her memoir, which she dedicated to her mother.
You’d think the iron lung would limit Martha to the point of self-destruction, but she lived a rich, social, satisfying life surrounded by friends and family. In fact, Martha said her iron lung gave her a sense of freedom. Her home hosted dinner parties, book club meetings, and holiday celebrations. In 2003, Martha told the Charlotte Observer: “I’m happy with who I am, where I am. I wouldn’t have chosen this life, certainly. But given this life, I’ve probably had the best situation anyone could ask for.”
In 2009, Martha passed away at the age of 71. She lived inside an iron lung longer than anyone else in history.
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