News Segment


December 26, 2006

Alice Cooper saved Christmas for 12-year-old Carlos “CJ” Cardenas.

Well, Alice Cooper and a team of surgeons at Rush University Medical Center.

CJ, a sixth-grader from Lake Villa, was feeling pretty down last week as he lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgeries to remove a terribly painful and aggressive tumor in his mouth.

Then came a package in the mail from an unlikely hero for a preteen — 58-year-old rocker Alice Cooper. The Detroit native had gotten word about CJ’s plight and autographed a blue Fender Squire electric guitar for him.

“C.J., You Rock! Alice Cooper,” the silver-inked message reads.

Cooper had already been CJ’s favorite musician — he has a closet full of Cooper T-shirts and a room full of Cooper videos, CDs and posters. CJ even put on Cooper’s trademark face paint for a summer concert in Waukegan.

His fascination with Cooper — and also with the band Kiss — somewhat perplexes his 45-year-old mom, as both bands’ heydays were in line with her generation — not CJ’s. But CJ knows what he likes.

So his mom’s boss helped get word to Cooper about the boy’s condition. And the rock star came through.

Knowing that his hero cared about him turned out to be the perfect medicine for CJ.

“He was so depressed at that point because he had been here [at the hospital] so long,” said his mother, Marla Belson. “But, after he got this, it was like someone blew life back into him.

“I had felt like I couldn’t get through to him anymore because he was so depressed. After he got this, it was almost as if there was nothing else in the world that could have done this for his spirits. It changed his whole game plan. He became proactive at that point. I think it played a huge part in him being home for Christmas.”

CJ’s troubles sprang up quickly. His tumor was diagnosed not long after Thanksgiving, and he was in the hospital Dec. 11 for surgery. But recovery was slow. Then came the guitar.

“I was happy,” CJ said while sitting in his hospital bed before being released Friday, a feeding tube in his nose and the guitar in his hands, “because nothing like this has ever happened.”

Happy? That’s an understatement, his family says.

“His eyes popped out of his head,” said his stepdad, Dave Belson. “He was a different kid within a split second.”

Recovery aid? Dr. Guy Petruzzelli, the Rush physician who operated on CJ, said the guitar “absolutely” could help the boy’s recovery.

“The more we can get people thinking positively and participating in their own care, wanting to get up, wanting to get out of bed, wanting to go to physical therapy, wanting to get out of the hospital, the better for everybody,” Petruzzelli said.

CJ’s dad, Carlos Cardenas, said his son has been brave in physical therapy. “He’s my new hero.”

The Cooper connection came through Marla Belson’s boss at Sherman Dodge in Skokie — owner Dave Dickens. He got in touch with a fellow dealer in Arizona who reached out to Cooper.

Cooper also sent a photo of him signing the guitar, proving it’s authentic. Not that CJ plans to sell it.

“My mom wants to shadow-box it and put it on a wall,” he said.

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