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Sarasota photographer with Wilson disease breaks down communication barriers

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SARASOTA Co., Fla. (WWSB) -- Whether you are a snowbird or year-long resident of Sarasota, chances are you will eventually bump into Alan Rodriguez and his camera.

Rodriguez has a successful career in photography and creates beautiful pictures of landscape, animals, and people.

Rodriguez also has Wilson disease, a genetic disorder that is fatal unless detected and treated before serious illness from copper poisoning develops, according to the Wilson Disease Association.

Wilson disease affects about one in 30,000 people globally. The genetic defect causes excessive copper accumulation in the liver or brain.

Symptoms usually appear in late adolescence. Patients may have jaundice, abdominal swelling, vomiting of blood, and abdominal pain. They may have tremors and difficulty walking, talking and swallowing. They may develop all degrees of mental illness including homicidal or suicidal behavior, depression, and aggression.

Not many doctors are familiar with Wilson disease on the Suncoast, said Rodriguez's wife of 26-years, Stephanie Rodriguez.

Stephanie Rodriguez said, "if they have heard of it, they they have never treated or seen a patient with it before, so in Sarasota it's pretty difficult to find someone."

Stephanie Rodriguez explained, "this past summer he had a set back after 26 years of being stable, because he was unable to tolerate the medication that is needed daily to keep the copper from accumulating.

But Alan Rodriguez recovered, returning full force to making beautiful pictures.

Stephanie Rodriguez explained, "because his speech is impaired, and many people don't understand him, this is kind of his way to talk to people."

Alan Rodriguez encourages people to introduce themselves and understands if they may not understand his speech. So, he uses technology, and texts.

For someone with a speech impediment, Alan Rodriguez says he is very approachable, so by all means don't wait for him to go up to you to say, "Hi, I'm Alan on his phone.  Go up to him, and put your hand out and introduce yourself.

Rodriguez also invites people to text, because if texting works for you, it works for him as well.