When Sonny Alcairo arrived at the Shriners Hospital orthotics and prosthetics lab, he found the perfect fit.
The opportunity to develop his technical skills while helping children achieve their goals has proved extremely satisfying to the veteran orthotist.
It was February 1981, when Alcairo reported to work at the San Francisco Shriners Hospital. His previous experience as a plastic technician at Hittenberger orthotics and prosthetics made him a valuable member of the hospital’s team. It was clear from the beginning that Alcairo was eager to do more, and he seized every opportunity to learn from his colleagues who had 80 years of experience between them.
“I had the best teachers,” said Alcairo, who continued his education while perfecting his skills on the job. Always learning, he became a certified orthotic technician, a certified orthotic fitter, and then a certified orthotist.
The kids were – are still are – his inspiration.
“There is one moment I experienced early on that I will never forget,” said Alcairo. “I fitted a spina bifida patient with a hip, knee and ankle foot orthoses, and after I put it on she stood up. I could see and feel the emotion of the mother and daughter. And, then the mom said, ‘this is the first time she ever stood up.’”
It was at that moment, Alcairo’s work became a mission.
Patients’ needs are top of mind, said Alcairo, who finds tremendous satisfaction in working through the design challenges. “I am always thinking: how am I going to make this work?” he said.
Over the years, he has met many challenges and devised many solutions. In 2016, Alcairo provided 557 devices to 494 patients, who made 1,427 visits to the hospital. Multiply that by 36 years, and one quickly sees that Alcairo has helped thousands of Shriners patients and fitted thousands orthoses.
Maybe that’s why his colleagues describe him as an artist, his patients call him a magician and his students say he is a living book.