'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek makes 'unforgettable' call to autistic man, his mother
By Kelly Healey and Monica Haider, CNN
A woman in New York arranged an unforgettable phone call between her “Jeopardy!”-loving son and legendary host Alex Trebek, CNN reported.
Debbie Stevens’ 32-year-old autistic son, Michael Kneeter, was crushed when he learned of Trebek’s struggle with pancreatic cancer, having lost his father to cancer 15 years ago.
Stevens, a pulmonary fibrosis survivor from Brooklyn, said she’s driven and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. She called Trebek’s son Matthew at his Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, and she and Kneeter spoke with him.
Kneeter told Matthew: "I hope he (his father) feels better."
Stevens then sent a get-well card via certified mail, this time kindly requesting that Alex Trebek connect with them, as, "It would thrill my son."
About a week later, Stevens’ phone rang while she was in the bathroom, only to find that Alex Trebek had left Kneeter this message:
"This is a message for Michael. My name is Alex Trebek. It is Friday at about 6:00 your time. My son Matthew, who has a restaurant in North Harlem, told me that you and your mom had been in contact and you’re fans of the show, and I just wanted to thank you for that, and I appreciate it. I hope you're well. And maybe someday, if you manage to get to Los Angeles, you could come to a taping of the program. That would be great. Hopefully I'll still be around hosting it. OK. You take care."
Stevens tearfully called Matthew Trebek, who texted his father after telling her to stay near the phone.
Alex Trebek called again and spoke with Stevens and Kneeter for seven minutes.
Stevens said Alex Trebek was “really concerned about Michael,” who has high-functioning autism and epilepsy, and that the call was not rushed.
"It was very heartwarming that under the circumstances Alex Trebek is going through, he was able to reach out to one of his biggest fans following his show for many years,"Kneeter's eldest sister, Lisa Stevens, 38, said.
Trebek has been hosting “Jeopardy!” for 36 seasons. In March, he announced he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
"I get these kinds of calls quite often now, where somebody who has special needs feels that they would be helped by talking to me, and it's no great imposition on me, to tell you the truth,"Trebek told CNN. "If I'm in a position to do it, I do."
Of disease survivors, he said, "They're looking for some kind of reassurance I think, and if I can provide that I'm happy to do it. The message I try to get across to all of them is, let's agree to be survivors against whatever ailment is afflicting us."
Trebek also said he is "hanging in," and will continue to host "Jeopardy!"