Inspiring teen is face of Shriners Hospital

Alec Cabacungan doesn’t see himself as an inspiration. But others do.

Now the 16-year-old Oak Park and River Forest High School student, who has been a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children-Chicago since he was just 2 months old and is a national spokesman for it, has something to memorialize that fact.

Shriners Hospitals for Children-Chicago’s indoor basketball court now bears his name.

Alec has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, and has broken more than 60 bones in his lifetime. Since 2014, he has been the face of Shriners, starring in national commercials for the hospital that have aired on channels such as MSNBC, Fox News and the USA networks. 

“At our international headquarters in Tampa we receive letters on a daily basis from people all over the country who are touched by Alec, by his life, his can-do spirit and his warm personality,” Stephanie Herron, chief development officer, Shriners Hospitals for Children, said at the dedication ceremony.

“In a world that is so often filled with cynicism and turmoil, Alec brings people joy and gives them hope. And, Alec reminds us of what is good in the world.”

As the hospital’s national spokesperson, Alec has become something of a celebrity. The OPRF teen can be seen on a YouTube video from 2017 prepping for an appearance on TNT’s Inside the NBA, where he crosses paths with one of the show’s co-hosts, former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

“I know you,” O’Neal tells Alec. “I’ve seen you somewhere before. Yeah, on the commercial, right? Yeah! I knew I’d seen you before on the commercial.”

Alec’s dad, Gil Cabacungan, says the family is deeply humbled by the court’s dedication.

Cabacungan says that Alec has undergone many surgeries, hours of physical therapy, X-rays and clinical visits. He’s such a presence at Shriners, he says that the staff considers him family.

“Alec doesn’t see himself as an inspiration,” Cabacungan says, “but millions of people do.”

This article appeared in the summer issue of Special Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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