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Colorado man, undeterred by rare disease, uses mouth to paint

Posted at 3:54 PM, Nov 18, 2018

MORRISON, Colo. — Alex Biagi lived a normal life for 24 years. He was an athlete and loved art and music. But everything took a turn in 2004.

Biagi's left hand started to hurt. At first, he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. On Thanksgiving eve in 2004, Biagi fell down his stairs.

"My ankle gave way," Biagi explained. "That's when we knew something else was going on."

Biagi lost use of his arms, hands and legs. It took four years for doctors to figure out what was going on. 

He was later diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. The disease is extremely rare.

"It affects approximately one to two people in 1,000 per year," said Dr. Robert Schabbing with Kaiser Permanente. "Alex has had a severe case of CIDP." 

When Biagi was first diagnosed, he gave up on art because his hands simply wouldn't allow it. But three years ago, he saw someone on the internet painting with their mouth.

"I never even thought about doing it that way," he said. "I finally decided to give it a try."

For three years, Biagi has been practicing the unique craft and his paintings continue to get better and better.

His latest piece of art is making the rounds on the internet. A picture of him touching up his painted portrait of superstar athlete LeBron James exploded on Reddit.

This is my friend Alex. He is disabled and can't use his hands - so he paints with his mouth. from r/pics

"A good friend of mine decided to post the picture and it went viral," Biagi explained.

Each piece of art takes time. Biagi says it takes more than a month before there is a finished product. His work is more than just paint on a canvas — it's a symbol of never giving up. 

"You gotta keep pursuing what you love. Otherwise you’ll let the disease win," he said.

Biagi has endured eight surgeries through all this. He also went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and saw the head neurologist there for six years. His disease has tamed after going through a unique stem cell treatment.

"Through that we’ve been able to stabilize his disease and really allow him to focus on trying to continue to move forward with it," said Schabbing.

Biagi said that before the stem cell treatment, he could only get around in a motorized wheelchair.

"If it wasn't for Dr. Schabbing I would be dead by now," Biagi said.

Biagi wants to thank his family who also act as his caretakers. He also wants to thank his friends.

"They have done so much for me." 

You can find Biagi's art on his instagram page @alexbiagi680.