Alex Biagi grew up very active. He played soccer and basketball throughout high school, played piano and painted.
But in his early 20s, he started to feel tingling and numbness in his fingers and, soon enough, had trouble moving his hands and wrists.
After years of doctors’ visits and various tests, Biagi was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, a rare autoimmune disease that meant his hands would end up paralyzed.
Biagi, from Denver, Colorado, became very depressed and gave up on painting, thinking that it was no use continuing his art if he lost the use of his hands.
But the 38-year-old is vowing to fight on and has picked up painting again – but instead of holding the paintbrush in his hands, he uses his mouth to color the canvas.
Alex Biagi, 38, from Denver, Colorado, was very active until around 2004 when he began feeling numbness in his fingers. Soon, he had trouble moving his hands as well. Pictured: Biagi painting a photo of LeBron James. He says he is a big basketball fan
It took another four years of neuromuscular tests and doctors visits before Biagi (left and right) was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIPD), which is a rare autoimmune disorder that results in progressive weakness in the legs and the arms
Biagi first began realizing something was wrong in 2004 when he began having trouble moving his hands.
‘I couldn’t spread my middle finger and ring finger apart and they also started to feel numb,’ Biagi wrote in a Facebook post.
‘After a time, it became hard for me to separate all of the fingers on my left hand. Soon it started happening on my right hand too, but not as severely.’
Biagi slowly felt his arms and legs growing weaker and then, on Thanksgiving Eve 2004, he fell down a flight of stairs.
‘I was about to head down to my room but my right ankle gave out and I fell down 13 steps on my back,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘That was the moment we knew something more was going on.’
What followed next were four years of neuromuscular tests and doctors’ visits, but nobody could figure out what was wrong.
Finally, Biagi and his mother visited the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, in March 2009, when doctors determined he had a rare autoimmune disease known as CIDP.
CIDP, which stands for Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, is a neurological disorder that results in progressive weakness in the legs and the arms.
It is caused by inflammation of nerve roots and damage to the myelin sheath, which are sleeves of fatty tissue that protect nerve cells.
Symptoms include tingling or numbness in the fingers or toes, weakness in the arms and legs, fatigue, and below normal or absent reflexes
The average age of onset is 50 and it is estimated that CIDP affects between five and seven people per 100,000 adults.
This means that there are only between 5,000 and 6,000 people in the world with CIDP.
‘At first I was relieved because it took four years of doctor appointments and four nerve and muscle biopsies to figure out what was going on and I was very happy they finally figured it out,’ Biagi said.
‘But then the reality started to sink in and I would have to change my life drastically. And there was always the uncertainty of not knowing how bad things could get, and they got really bad unfortunately.’
Biagi (pictured) tried a number of treatments, but soon his left hand became paralyzed, and he lost most movement in his right hand, and he decided to give up on painting
However, three years ago, Biagi came across a video on the Internet of someone painting with their mouth and decided to try it himself (left and right). He says he spends about a month working on each painting and that they have become a symbol for him to not give up hope
After he returned home, Biagi was on a four-day-a-week regimen of prednisone, which is an oral corticosteroid, and IVIG treatments for six months.
However, his symptoms worsened. His left hand became completely paralyzed and he could only bend his thumb, index finger and middle finger on his right hand.
‘I needed help eating, dressing, toileting, holding on to anything,’ he wrote.
Doctors tried immunosuppressant drugs, chemotherapy and even a plasma exchange, but to no avail.
When Biagi was first diagnosed, he stopped painting because he couldn’t even pick up the brush.
‘I didn’t want to give up painting, drawing, playing the piano or gaming but I had no choice,’ he said.
But that changed three years ago, when his mother received a calendar in the mail of paintings from mouth painters.
‘I was blown away!’ Biagi remembered. ‘So I went on YouTube and watched some mouth painters and it really inspired me to give it a try. That was about three and half years ago and I haven’t looked back.’
Biagi said it was hard at first because he had to learn how to rotate the brush so he could paint the right angles.
‘The response on social media was more than I was expecting. Everyone seemed to really like it!’ he said.
Biagi’s Instagram account now features paintings of scenic landscapes, a rooster and even LeBron James.
‘I’ve been a Denver Nuggets fan since 1992 and LeBron is one of my all time favorite players! I saw him at the rookie All-Star game when it was in Denver in 2003-04,’ he said.
He says he spends about a month working on each painting and that they become a symbol for him to not give up hope.
‘Never give up on your dreams especially if you have a disease or obstacle like this because if you do you will let the disease win and you have to adapt to pursue what you love,’ he said.