You may recognize 17-year-old Alec Cabacungan from the various commercials for Shriners Hospitals for Children that have aired nationally. Alec, a patient of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, has become a popular television star, been interviewed on numerous national news and talk shows, and has captured the hearts of many with his adorable smile and charming personality. Alec is quite the active teenager. From playing wheelchair softball and basketball, to assistant coaching tee-ball, he loves just about any sport. However, because he has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease, Alec’s approach to his favorite activities is a little different.
OI is a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that can frequently and easily break, which can make it hard for Alec to participate in sports. The underlying cause of OI is a lack of collagen – or abnormal collagen – in the bones that prevents them from absorbing appropriate minerals and developing correctly.
Alec has been going to the Chicago Shriners Hospital for treatment since 2002. Since then, he has made great progress thanks to receiving customized treatment from our rehabilitation specialists. Alec receives intravenous (IV) infusions of pamidronate, a medication that slows down the process of bone resorption and improves bone mass. He also routinely visits the hospital for physical therapy, and has had several surgeries.Thanks to the health care system’s focus on improving the quality of life of patients and families, Alec has developed a level of confidence that has opened up a world of opportunities.
Over the years, Alec has been a tremendous voice for Shriners Hospitals for Children, and has appeared in numerous national commercials, representing the many patients whose lives have been changed forever by the health care system. He has also been a featured guest on many television shows, sharing his appreciation everywhere he goes.
“Without Shriners Hospitals for Children, I wouldn’t be able to dream as big as I do,” said Alec. “I know anything is possible because the staff remind me all the time that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I live a full life because of Shriners Hospitals.”
Alec Cabacungan is just one of many children who have benefited from the hope and healing found at Shriners Hospitals for Children and he joined The Smart Reader for this exclusive Q&A.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself Alec/ Where are you from? What are your interests?
I live in Chicago, Illinois with my parents. I am a senior in high school getting ready to go to college. If I’m not at school or helping Shriners Hospitals you can find me on a basketball court with my best friends playing for hours.
Q.What do you like about being the national spokesperson for Shriners Hospitals for Children?
My favorite thing about being the spokesperson is that I get to bring awareness to the incredible mission of Shriners Hospitals for Children. It truly brings me joy to inform people of the amazing wrap-around care they bring to the over 1.4 million children served.
Q. What do you find challenging about being the national spokesperson?
In my opinion the most challenging thing about being the “spokesperson” is that it’s hard for me to balance all the requests for appearances between the Shriners temples and the 22 hospital locations, I want to be at everything possible and it’s challenging for me to not be there all the time.
Q. What are some of the most memorable moments you have had as spokesperson?
I’ll always remember the first time I got recognized for the commercials and feeling so happy.
As a famous spokesperson, have your televised commercials had an impact on your daily life?
My life has changed and hasn’t changed at the same time. I think the biggest impact is just being noticed everywhere I go, even at the movies or the marke,t people recognize me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it!
I’m extremely grateful for all the recognition I receive but it’s not just me. I have a great support system that helps me and I work with a great production crew that makes me look really good.
Q. What impact has Shriners Hospitals had on your life?
Shriners Hospitals for Children has given me a life where I can live without any limitations. They have given me medical help since I was 2 months old and now they are helping me live out my dreams.
Q. What motivates you to be so positive about life?
As I’ve gotten older I have noticed that my situation is not as bad as others. Whenever I feel down, I think about all the good things that have happened to me and I try to help others feel the same way.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish as the national spokesperson for Shriners Hospitals for Children?
My number one goal has always been and will always be to help more and more kids get the best quality of care.
Q. What are your future plans after you’re done with high school?
College for sure, but keeping my entertainment industry options wide open.
Interview conducted by Donny Stancato & Cassidy Gillespie-Dipinto – Edited by Jason Hedman
The story originally appeared in the December 19th edition of Your Smart reader
Choo Choo Charlie’s now Charlie’s Shriner Diner
Choo-Choo Charlie has traded in his conductor’s cap for a fez. The mascot of the downtown Kenosha train-themed kids’ restaurant began donning the traditional burgundy hat that signals membership in the Tripoli Shriners last month when Choo-Choo Charlie’s was rechristened Charlie’s Shriner Diner. Half of all profits from food and beverage sales now benefit the young patients at Shriner’s Hospitals for Children in Chicago.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to branch out in fresh ways to help children,” said Dan Winter, development officer the hospital. “Charlie’s is a well-known brand in Kenosha as a place for kids to have fun and eat classic American food. We think it will become an even more popular destination with parents knowing they are helping boys and girls get life-changing medical care just by eating a meal.”
The restaurant continues to serve authentic comfort foods kids crave – and while the trains that have become its hallmark will also remain, the décor will be changed to include photographs and information about Shriner’s Hospitals and the children they serve.
“This could become a model for Shrine clubs across the country,” Kenosha Shrine Club President Jim Gename said. “We’ll be giving people good food while giving them an opportunity to help out our great cause. That’s a combination we think people will be all-aboard for. It’ll be a day to remember not just for the children,” Gename said, “but the whole community.”