At age 33, “Little Eddie” Rodriguez spends much of his time resting in his living room, surrounded by angels.
“They’re cherubs really — baby angels,” he said of the collection of figurines on his coffee table and shelves, and the paintings on the wall. “I look at them and it makes me feel positive.”
The Egg Harbor City resident, and 1998 Absegami High School graduate, has been seriously ill since age 14, when he was hospitalized for months with stomach problems that stumped the doctors. Then at 18, he lost his sight temporarily and was diagnosed with Type I Juvenile Diabetes; and at age 25 with stomach cancer.
Now he’s also dealing with Krohn’s disease, and the skin lesions that doctors say it causes.
“I just want to be healthy,” he said. “I want to be out there working.”
Friends in the Egg Harbor City Latino Club will hold a fundraising dinner March 16 to help Rodriguez pay for a new insulin pump and necessary medications, said Egg Harbor City Councilwoman Hazel Mueller, the group’s vice president.
Rodriguez has insurance coverage through his wife, Noemi Perez, who works at World Class Flowers in Egg Harbor City, and through Medicare disability. But with so many medications and procedures, his copayments add up quickly, he said. His wife also pays a large amount each week towards their medical coverage.
Despite the city’s substantial Hispanic population, the Latino Club — which undertakes various community outreach efforts — is less than two years old. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 figures show 26 percent of Egg Harbor City’s’s 4,200 residents are Hispanic.
The club got started when retired Atlantic City policeman and former Egg Harbor City Councilman Dennis Munoz, now its president, and Mueller got together with some of the town’s most active Hispanic citizens, and made it happen.
“I’m 100 percent German, but I’m trying very hard to be Puerto Rican,” joked Mueller, describing her active role in the group.
“Us Puerto Ricans adopted her,” laughed Milka “Grape” Adams, who in January became the first female and the first Spanish-speaking code enforcement officer hired by the city. Previously a crossing guard for Egg Harbor City schools, she was instrumental in getting the group going.
Puerto Ricans were the first Hispanic group to settle in large numbers in the city, but now there are also plenty of people who originally came from Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, Mueller and Adams said.
The club, which meets each Sunday at noon at City Hall, has focused on community celebrations. Its first event was a parade and street festival in October, 2011. The club plans to hold its first Cinco de Mayo celebration (but on May 4) in town this year.
Now that it is more established, the club also wants to help residents like Eddie, Mueller said.
Rodriguez studied to be a pharmacy technician, and previously worked for a transportation company, driving seniors to medical appointments and handicapped kids to school.
“I was always sick, so I knew how to deal with them,” he said.
But since his cancer surgery — his stomach was removed and replaced with an expanded section of intestine — he hasn’t been strong enough to work. He qualified for permanent disability, he said.
His mom, Virginia Rodriguez, lives close to him and helps as much as she can. She also works at World Class Flowers.
Rodriguez said his half-brother, Naeem Closs, 31, of Galloway Township, is healthy and has three children. He and Closs have different fathers, and Rodriguez believes his health problems come from his father’s family. Rodriguez would love to have children, but has decided against it.
“I’m scared to have kids,” he said, for fear they would inherit his health problems.
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