An Oak Park and River Forest High School sophomore recently received an honor that is often reserved for millionaires and moguls. Alec Cabacungan, 16, has been a patient, off and on, at Shriners Hospital for Children since he was 2 months old, said his father, Gil Cabacungan.
Now the teenager — who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disease that results in fragile bones — is the namesake of one portion of the hospital. The facility features a two-story atrium, activity mall and café area connecting the main lobby, administration offices and laboratories with a surgical wing, hospital officials said. A dedication ceremony was scheduled for May 15.
“We’re very honored about this and totally overwhelmed,” said Gil during an interview last week. “He just turned 16, but to have something as significant as this named after him is an incredible honor for all of us. We’re deeply humbled that they’ll recognize Alec like this.”
Since 2014, Alec has been the face of Shriners, starring in at least two national commercials for the hospital that have aired on channels such as MSNBC, Fox News and the USA networks.
As the hospital’s national spokesperson, Alec has become something of a celebrity in his own right. 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.”
During the TNT appearance, Alec, who easily wins over his co-anchors, shares his story of living with osteogenesis imperfecta.
“I’ve broken over 60 bones in my lifetime,” said Alec, who was 15 at the time, before expressing his admiration for the show’s studio host, Ernie Johnson.
When Alec tells Johnson that he wore a bow-tie to the show in homage to him, co-hosts Charles Barkley, Kenny Anderson and O’Neal — who are all bald — wonder aloud, ‘What about the rest of us?’
“I was going to shave my head, but …” Alec quips on a dime, causing uproarious laughter.
Gil said that Alec has undergone many surgeries, hours of physical therapy, X-rays and clinical visits. He’s such a presence at Shriners, Gil said, that the staff considers him family.
“Alec doesn’t see himself as an inspiration,” Gil said, “but millions of people do.”