Arts & Culture

Breath: A Lifetime in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung by Martha Mason

  • By Katie Baer
  • Photography by Bert Vanderveen


The advent of the polio vaccine in the 1960s means that many people aren’t familiar with infantile paralysis, the disease that paralyzes limbs and sometimes the part of the brain that controls breathing.

In the fall of 1948, though, polio was rampant across the country. The illness struck Martha Mason, a spunky, active 11-year-old, who whizzed around her hometown of Lattimore on a bicycle and skates, and paralyzed her from the neck down.

When a doctor told the young girl that her physical limitations would make her a prisoner in her iron lung for life, he asked if she could live with that dire prophecy. Mason replied: “No, but I can live above it.” She went on to transcend her condition, surpassing every expectation.

Mason never saw herself as a victim. In this extraordinary memoir, recently reissued, she tells her story with no self-pity — instead with humor and insight about the human condition.

Bloomsbury. 2010, 334 pages, paperback, $16.

This entry was posted in Arts & Culture, Biography, Books, May 2011 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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