Alan Percy, M.D., pauses for a minute to think about which story he wants to tell to illustrate how the Civitan-Sparks Clinics has made a difference in someone’s life. It’s not easy for him to come up with just one.

UAB nurse Jane Lane (far left), neurologist Alan Percy, M.D., (second from right) and nutritionist Suzanne Geerts (far right) work with Hannah Carpenter and her parents Tricia and Steven during a recent visit to the Civitan-Sparks Clinics. The interdisciplinary clinics offer comprehensive diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of the needs of children and adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

“There are just so many running through my head,” he says.

Finally he settles on one about a young girl who was brought to a primary-care clinic for under-served populations that was set up by the Civitan-Sparks Clinics. The clinical program initially was developed to help support the many needs families may face when a child is impacted by developmental disabilities, including those sometimes associated with prenatal substance exposure.

Percy and his team first identified the girl as someone they would like to examine at Children’s Hospital, but were never able to make contact. At that time the girl’s family was told she had Huntington’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

By chance the girl and her caregiver came to the Civitan-Sparks Clinics several years later. Percy’s team was able to tell the girl’s caregiver that the disorder she had was benign familial chorea, which is treatable, unlike Huntington’s disease.

“It was a great moment being able to tell the girl’s grandmother that she didn’t have the debilitating disorder,” Percy says. “We were able to correct a misconception and provide the grandmother with somewhat of a brighter outlook for the child.”

The Civitan-Sparks Clinics is celebrating stories like this, which highlight its success in research and its commitment to patients and community, with its 40th anniversary celebration and the Simpson-Ramsey Lectureship Monday, March 19. The events will take place in the Children’s Harbor Bradley Center from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

The day will feature new research by keynote speaker Darryl De Vivo, M.D., professor of neurology and pediatrics and director emeritus of the pediatric neurology service at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. Other participants in the program include Stephen Cederbaum, M.D., chief of genetics at UCLA, and UAB Genetics Professor Lane Rutledge, M.D. They will discuss topics related to newborn screening. A panel discussion featuring consumers and health professionals will round out the day’s events. For a complete schedule, visit and click on the Simpson-Ramsey Lectureship link.

Serving Alabama and beyond
The Civitan-Sparks Clinics has been in existence in some form since 1962, when it was known as the Diagnostic Clinic for Mentally Retarded Children.

The Sparks Clinics provides an extensive range of interdisciplinary clinics offering comprehensive diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of the needs of children and adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. The clinics serve all of Alabama, providing a full-service clinical program, including primary health and dental care. The clinics also are well-respected for the training they provide.

“Faculty, staff and students representing many different disciplines apply their skills in a collaborative manner in the Civitan-Sparks Clinics,” says Gina Harris, director of family services for the clinics. “That’s the heart of what we do. We really are a team that believes in making a difference.”

Every individual and family member receives extraordinary care, as no two clients or families’ needs are the same.

“And it’s a whole team of people or multiple teams of people being involved,” Harris says. “We’re family-centered. We appreciate that it’s not just the individual who is the official client. It’s the entire family that helps support that individual.”

The clinic also asks family members and consumers to serve on a Consumer Advisory Committee to in an effort get input from families who are using or have used the services. It’s one way to keep the clinics centered on family and gain consumer perspective to incorporate in the education of trainees.

“We want families and consumers to be a part of the decision-making process,” says Karen Dixon, Ph.D., assistant director of program development for the Civitan International Research Center and consumer coordinator for the Civitan-Sparks Clinics.

Research, education, service
Many of the Civitan-Sparks Clinics’ services and training programs are part of the federally funded University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education Research and Service that has served the people of Alabama for 40 years.

“Research, education and service are our priority areas,” Dixon says.

There are a number of research projects under way, Dixon says, including one on autism in which they are training children to better understand facial emotions; the lack of such understanding is a deficit in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The training involves the use of computer games featuring avatars. “We believe this will help the children be more socially aware of emotions and their meanings,” says Dixon.

Harris says the celebration is a great time for the clinics to thank those who have been a part of the important work generated through their of operation – and to look forward to the future.

“It’s a time of celebrating those accomplishments and thanking the community for its continued support of what we do,” she says. “It acknowledges that we’re all working in this together, and it’s a way of expressing our appreciation for entrusting us with these responsibilities.”