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‘She was a treasure … a miracle’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dianne Odell couldn’t attend worship with her church family at the Campbell Street congregation in Jackson, Tenn. The iron lung machine that had kept her breathing since she contracted polio at age 3 wouldn’t allow that much movement.
But Odell, 61, found countless ways to encourage fellow Christians worldwide – completing some classes and earning an honorary degree from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, writing a children’s book and advocating for vaccines on an international level.
She died May 28 after a power failure shut down the 7-foot-long machine that kept her breathing, according to her family and reported by The Associated Press.
“She was a treasure … a miracle,” Kenneth Grizzell, minister of the Campbell Street church, said in an e-mail to The Christian Chronicle.

Family members were unable to start an emergency generator after a power outage occurred at the family’s home near Jackson, about 80 miles northeast of Memphis, brother-in-law Will Beyer said.
“We did everything we could do but we couldn’t keep her breathing,” Beyer told AP. “Dianne had gotten a lot weaker over the past several months and she just didn’t have the strength to keep going.”
Capt. Jerry Elston of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department said emergency crews responded, but were unable to offer much help.
Odell was afflicted with “bulbo-spinal” polio three years before the discovery of a vaccine that largely stopped the spread of the crippling childhood disease.
She spent her life in the iron lung, which weighed 750 lbs. and produced positive and negative pressure on the lungs that caused them to expand and contract so she could breathe. Cared for by her parents and other family members, a special fund was established through the Campbell Street church that also provided aid.
Iron lungs were first used to sustain life in 1928, and were largely replaced by positive-pressure airway ventilators in the late 1950s. A spinal deformity from the polio made it impossible for Odell to wear a more modern, portable breathing apparatus, so she continued to use the older machine. She was believed to be the oldest person using an iron lung.
In a 2001 interview with The Associated Press, she said she wanted to show children, especially those with physical disabilities, that they should never give up.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you see someone do the same thing,” she said.

  • Feedback
    What a beautiful woman. May God be with her family during this difficult time of adjustment.
    May, 28 2008

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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