BIRDIES FORE LOVE
Charismatic Shriners Hospitals for Children patient inspires Na
October 07, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Kevin Na surprises Alec from Shriners Hospitals for Children
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alec Cabacungan won’t be at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open to provide a little extra motivation for defending champion Kevin Na this week.
But the charismatic 18-year-old who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease, certainly made a lasting impression on Na when the two renewed acquaintances prior to last year’s tournament at TPC Summerlin.
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Cabacungan, who wants to be a sports broadcaster, interviewed Na that Wednesday and showed the PGA TOUR veteran some video of his breakthrough win at the tournament in 2011.
Fast forward to Sunday and a hard-fought battle with Patrick Cantlay that Na won on the second playoff hole. The win was Na’s second in Las Vegas, his adopted hometown, and the fourth of his TOUR career.
And Na says talking with Cabacungan about his 2011 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open victory helped give him the kind of confidence he needed to win.
“He motivated me that week that I could do it again,” says Na, who fired a career-low 61 in the third round.
In addition to the 500 FedExCup points and $1.26 million Na earned last year, he also led the week’s RSM Birdies Fore Love competition. That means he got a bonus of $50,000 to give to the charity of his choice, and it certainly wasn’t a hard decision.
Na and his family, which includes wife Jullianne and their two children, decided to give the money to Shriners Hospitals for Children for OI research. The genetic disorder affects between 20,000 and 50,000 people in the United States.
But meeting just one of those had a particular impact on Na.
“One, it made sense because I won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open,” he says of the donation. “And meeting Alec and getting in to learn about that disease was the reason why.”
Jim Smith, Imperial Potentate of Shriners International, says Na’s donation makes a big difference in the mission of the organization, which has a network of 22 non-profit hospitals nationwide.
“Our donors, whom we depend on, have helped us treat more than 1.4 million children from over 170 countries,” Smith says. “We are humbled by Kevin’s generosity.”
Cabacungan is one of those children. He has been a patient at the Chicago Shriners Hospital since he was two months old, receiving therapy and treatments designed to build stronger bone mass.
In his short 18 years on earth, Cabacungan has undergone 12 surgeries and broken more than 60 bones. Patients with OI can break bones by doing something as innocuous sneezing or coughing, as well as falling down.
Despite the many obstacles he’s faced, though, Cabacungan is known for his bubbly personality and his infectious smile.
“He’s a happy guy and has a lot of good energy,” Na said.
Cabacungan is essentially the face of Shriners Hospitals for Children, too. Since he was 14 years old, he has appeared in commercials broadcast nationwide to raise the profile of the facilities that work with children with neuromusculoskeletal conditions and burn injuries, as well as other healthcare issues.
The sports-minded teenager, who loves to play wheelchair basketball, makes appearances around the country. Cabacungan has been profiled on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” and joined one of his idols, Ernie Johnson, along with NBA greats Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” in 2017.
And one year ago, Cabacungan was at TPC Summerlin, trying his interviewing skills out on Na, who responded by showing the teen his signature move of walking in the putt.
“I know his dream is to become a sports announcer, and I hope his dream comes true,” Na said.
On Sunday, though, Na was living his own dream.
“It's always nice to play in your hometown, but to win on top of that, it was very special,” Na says. “And to have my family there to celebrate together on 18 was a special moment.
“And to be able to donate to Shriners made it even better.”