The Jeopardy! game show host may be fighting a battle of stage four pancreatic cancer, but he still takes time out of his schedule for special moments like this. Mother Debbie Stevens arranges a special phone call with Alex Trebek for her 32-year-old autistic son, Michael Kneeter. Debbie is a pulmonary fibrosis survivor, and her son learning about Trebek’s cancer diagnosis crushed him.
Debbie then went on a search for Trebek. “I’m a very driven person,” she tells CNN. “I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” She says it was extremely important for this to happen, due to Kneeter losing his father to cancer 15 years ago.
They arrange a special phone call for 32-year-old Michael Kneeter
Debbie was able to find out that Trebek’s son, Matthew, owns a restaurant in Manhattan, NY. She called the restaurant and told Matthew it was personal. Debbie would keep the conversation light, and follow it up with a get-well card via certified mail. In the card, she would respectfully request that they all connect as “it would thrill my son.”
On October 18th, the game show host would finally call. But, Debbie was in the restroom and missed it. He left a voicemail: “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.”
They Finally Connect
Of course, Debbie was in tears learning that Trebek had actually called and left her a voicemail! She then called Matthew, who said he would text his father, and tells Debbie to stay by the phone. Soon after, Trebek would call once more and speak on the phone with Debbie and her son for seven minutes.
“It wasn’t rushed,” Debbie says. “He was really concerned and caring for Michael.” Kneeter has high-functioning autism and epilepsy. But, in this moment, he was able to forget all about that. Trebek asks what his hobbies are and asks about his siblings. He says Kneeter is a “very smart young man” and he was happy to talk with them!
Trebek isn’t new to these kinds of phone calls
Both Kneeter and his mom would end the call telling Trebek to get better soon and that they love him. Trebek tells them he plans to keep on fighting. Trebek talks about these kinds of phone calls, apparently, he is no stranger to them. “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,” he tells CNN.
“If I’m in a position to do it, I do.” He continues, “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.”