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Las Vegas teen with spina bifida honored as national ambassador for Shriner's

Posted at 9:50 PM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 14:15:31-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Ask Veletia Gray and she’ll tell you her son’s life has been special from the start.

“His life has been a miracle of events just over and over and over," said Veletia.

Cristian was born with a severe form of spina bifida, a birth defect that affects how the spine forms, and hydrocephalus, which is extra fluid in the brain. He had two major surgeries in his first 15 days of life, 10 more in the years since. With each surgery came a miracle.

“With my spinal cord surgery when they were taking out the scar tissue, the way the doctor explained the surgery was like, you get a piece of gum in the carpet and you have to get the gum out of the carpet without damaging any fibers of the carpet," said Cristian.

The surgery should’ve taken nine to 10 hours. Cristian said it took two to three. The doctors came out to greet Cristian's parents and told them it was the easiest surgery he'd ever done.

"Things like that have happened my entire life," said Cristian. "I’m so blessed.”

Cristian was blessed to have surgeries go smoothly. But he still had to wrestle with the emotional side of being physically limited.

When he was young, he struggled to keep up with other kids his age. He said he understood he couldn't do all the same things they did but the limitations wore on him.

“If you knew this little kid, he was the one that would not talk," said Veletia. "He stayed here, he didn’t go with his friends. He didn’t want to do anything because he was always afraid of what was going to happen to his body.”

Cristian’s saving grace was Shriner’s Hospital - a place where he not only moved toward physical strength but found community.

“All the doctors are amazing," Cristian said. "They really care deeply about every single kid. They ask them how they are of course but then they also ask them about their future and what they’re going to do with their life.”

With the support of Shriner’s, Cristian blossomed. He became a patient ambassador and when it came time for his Eagle Scout project, he knew he wanted to give back to the place that he said saved his life.

“One of the things that’s helped me a lot through my surgeries is just a simple teddy bear to be there to comfort me so I realized I could do the same thing for the patients at the hospital," said Cristian.

With the help of friends and family, Cristian raised more than $4,000. He went to Build a Bear and made more than 200 bears.

“When he came to me with that, I was blown away. Like, ‘who are you? Where did you come from? How are you so wise at such a young age?’ I was really proud of him. I just couldn’t believe that at such a young age that he had already thought about other people. He was so selfless," said Veletia.

“I remember how insecure I was and how I really didn’t want to talk to anybody. To be able to approach them and give them something like that and just see them brighten up, see that and change their whole day, it’s just an amazing experience," said Cristian.

Cristian was recently named a national ambassador for Shriner's Hospital and will attend BYU in the fall.

Cristian was named our Vegas Stronger Champion for August. Vegas Stronger Champion is sponsored by Findlay Automotive.