HOUSTON (KVEO) — When Major League Baseball decided to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston Astros Pitcher Joe Smith made the decision to opt-out of the 2020 season.
He was the only player to opt-out, and the decision didn’t come lightly. Smith’s love for the game was instilled in him since he could ever remember, but his love for family trumps all.
“Watching my mom go through what she went through over the past really three years has been the roughest,” said Smith. “We miss her so much,” added his wife, Allie LaForce, a sports reporter for TNT.
The two are a power couple, built up from the strength of their families. Much of that strength is rooted from Joe’s mom, Lee Smith, and her battle with Huntington’s Disease.
“From a long time ago, when my grandmother had it, and from when my mom obviously got diagnosed with it and then being in a position to try to create something or do something or help out and trying to figure out what that was, it was a long process,” said Smith.
Huntington’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes the breakdown of nerve cells, leading to a physical, mental, and behavioral decline. Lee was admitted into a nursing home where she spent her final days and died with family alongside her in August 2020.
“We had conversations with her when she was fully mentally there asking if this is what she wanted, and she had no hesitation in saying if you can make sure my grandchildren don’t have Huntington’s disease and you guys are comfortable doing this then I’m all in,” LaForce said joyfully.
Joe and Allie got to work. They found ways to put together a foundation that they’ve become so proud of. The Help Cure HD Foundation is set up to raise money to find a cure, and to provide monetary assistance to families seeking the PGT-IVF route.
“The city of Houston has been unbelievable to us, and to our cause, and everything we’re trying to do,” said Smith.
Huntington’s Disease affects everyone 1 in 10,000 people. A person whose parent is affected has a 50/50 chance of being affected themselves. One way to eliminate HD from a family’s bloodline is to conceive a child through PGT-IVF.
“When we settled on the IVF process, we didn’t know how it was going to take form and what it was going to grow into but over the past four or five years trying to set all this stuff up and seeing what we thought was the light at the end of the tunnel, now seeing it come through with having three families with babies and another four pregnant,” said Smith.
Through Help Cure HD, they have awarded 24 grants, changing the lives of three-HD free healthy babies, and have seven more on the way.
“We’ve heard from a lot of grandparents too and this is something you don’t think about until you go through this and families are having babies,” said LaForce. “They called and said ‘because of Huntington’s disease my kids were not going to…have children because they didn’t want this disease passed along. So our name was never going to be passed along ever again until your foundation came along.’ So, when you hear that it hits you hard because we’re talking about carrying on tradition and family and so the fact that we’re even a small part of that is remarkable.”
Though there is no cure yet, Joe and Allie are committed to finding one and eliminating it from their own family line.
“We’re hoping that she comes down from heaven and delivers a real healthy girl so we can name her after Lee.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by Huntington’s Disease, the application and funds for a PGT-IVF grant are available at HelpCureHD.org.