By Associate Editor Joe May
A routine power outage in Jackson, TN claimed the life of Diane Odell, at around 3:00 a.m. Wednesday morning.
A member of the Campbell Street Church of Christ, the 61-year-old polio victim was the nation’s longest surviving iron lung patient. She had been in the machine since being afflicted with the disease at age 3.
According to a news report in her hometown paper, the Jackson Sun, the family had a backup generator for the iron lung, but it failed to come on. Odell’s father, Freemon Odell feverishly hand-pumped the machine as he has many times in similar circumstances, but because his daughter had been weakened by several strokes in the past weeks, she stopped breathing. When other relatives arrived at the scene, the older man was still attempting CPR on Diane.
A family friend, Libby Murphy, told the paper that due to the recent health problems, Odell had been experiencing difficulty swallowing and had said that any variance in the pressure against her lungs made it difficult to breathe. The iron lung’s job is to maintain continuous pressure against the patient’s lungs, forcing them to work.
Odell suffered from a severe case of bulbar polio which left her paralyzed and unable to breathe on her own.
Despite her illness, Odell was a minor celebrity in her part of Tennessee and had met or spoken to numerous world-wide celebrities, including the late Superman actor, Christopher Reeve, who asked her how she persevered without movement. Other celebrities known to her included David Keith, Jane Seymour, Cliff Harris of Dallas Cowboys fame and others.
She also managed to graduate from high school as a home studies graduate, attended the University of Tennessee as well as Freed-Hardeman University, from whom she received an honorary degree, having majored in psychology.
She wrote a children’s book, Blinky’s Less Light about the smallest star in the heavens. It took her ten years to write and sold 100,000 copies almost immediately.
For more articles and photos about Diane’s amazing life, visit the Jackson Sun online.
James Meadows and Ray Hawk will conduct the funeral at the Campbell Street church building.