Disc jockeys team up to raise autism awareness
Pat Still and Tom Mailey have done as much as anyone to elevate public awareness of the M.I.N.D. Institute during the past several years. And they're not even on the payroll.
The DJs, known to their radio listeners for the past 15 years simply as "Pat and Tom," host the 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot weekdays on Sacramento country music station KNCI, 105.1 FM. Between hits by Brad Paisley, Martina McBride and Keith Urban, they engage their audience with updates about popular performers, comments about current events and zany antics.
Yes, they conducted an on-air interview with a guy named Uncle Booger, who invented an emergency porta-potty that attaches to a trailer hitch. And they demonstrated the parental difficulties of assembling tiny toys given away with fast-food kids' meals. Mailey credibly impersonates Carol Channing's voice, and Still can imitate Shaggy, the cartoon dog.
But Pat and Tom also are staunch advocates of worthy causes. They publicize and participate in fundraising events that have increased public awareness and support of the M.I.N.D. Institute. Both speak passionately about it because they have more than a passing interest.
Mailey's 10-year-old son, Joey, has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a mild hint of Tourette syndrome. Still's 8-year-old son Dimitri has autism.
Both boys have been treated at the M.I.N.D. Institute. Still in particular has been involved with the M.I.N.D. Institute since its formative days, encouraged by newscaster Sarah Gardner. Still's wife D'Anne worked with Gardner as a producer and camera operator for television stations KCRA channel 3 and KQCA channel 58. Gardner and her husband Chuck, whose son Chas has autism, were among the founding parents who helped create the M.I.N.D. Institute.
Back in 2000, Pat and D'Anne participated in a walk, along with Dimitri in a stroller, to raise funds for the M.I.N.D. Institute. The following year, Still took part in the ground-breaking ceremony for the facility. When construction of the M.I.N.D. Institute was completed in April 2003, Still, Sarah Gardner and actor David Gallagher – whose brother has autism – together hosted the public ribbon-cutting ceremony.
— Pat Still, radio host, KNCI, 105.1 FM
The Stills were intrigued by the M.I.N.D. Institute because they had become suspicious about Dimitri's withdrawn behavior. Their other son, Lucas, was 3 years old when Dimitri was born.
"By the time Dimitri reached the age of 3 months, he still wouldn't look directly at us, and never made eye contact with us," Still said. "He didn't react when we called his name, so we suspected deafness, but tests when he was 11 months old confirmed that he could hear just fine." Only through evaluation at the M.I.N.D. Institute was the diagnosis of autism confirmed when Dimitri was 19 months old.
"Dimitri is a smart little guy, but he doesn't communicate the way that you and I do. We credit the team of tutors at his school and the therapists at the M.I.N.D. Institute for the progress that he has made."
Most recently, Pat and Tom co-hosted their third annual Clint Howard Celebrity Wiffle Ball Challenge, proceeds of which benefited the M.I.N.D. Institute.
"The Wiffle tournament doesn't raise a lot of money, but it has raised public awareness and given us an opportunity to talk about the M.I.N.D. Institute," Mailey said. "We have plenty of breaks [between songs] when we can goof around and scratch the itch to be 12 years old again, but we also have lots of other breaks in which we can do something for the community," Mailey said.
The Tourette syndrome manifestations that Mailey's son Joey exhibits are subtle facial muscle movements. Although they're irritating to Joey, Mailey said the movements are barely perceptible to others. He and his wife, Vicki, also have two other children: another son, Sam, and a daughter, Emma. Mailey describes his family's involvement in M.I.N.D. Institute activities as much more ancillary than that of Pat and D'Anne Still.
Even as Dimitri has begun learning to cope with the world around him, his parents have undergone changes as well.
"Early on, our greatest hope was that Dimitri eventually could live a normal life. That hope is still there, but we now know we have to adjust our sights and re-evaluate continuously. If he could just somehow survive even through assisted living to enable him to do something productive, I would turn somersaults for that," Pat Still confided. "One of our greatest fears is that responsibility for Dimitri will come down around the neck of his brother when we're gone. When I see a homeless person, I think, dear God, I hope that is not what lies in store for my son."
The Stills take solace in a slogan that Sacramento advertising executive Dave Mering created for a series of M.I.N.D. Institute public service announcements: "It takes a heart to cure a mind." Speaking for his friend, Mailey adds, "Pat believes if a cure for autism is ever found, that discovery will be made at the M.I.N.D. Institute."