Astros stars rally around Allie LaForce and Joe Smith, raise $265,000 for Huntington’s disease

Celebrity sports couple hosts second annual HelpCureHD Luncheon at River Oaks Country Club.

How long does it take for a fundraiser to hit its stride? For Allie LaForce and Joe Smith, two years proved plenty of time for the married couple to knock their HelpCureHD Luncheon out of the park.

In 2018, the TNT sports reporter and Astros pitcher hosted an intimate group of 70 supporters in Tootsies’s private gown room. At the time, it was the perfect venue to educate Houstonians on Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder which causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. And because the condition is dominant, there’s a 50 percent chance that the offspring of carriers will inherit the gene, too.
So last year, LaForce and Smith – whose mother, Lee Smith, has been diagnosed with the disease – set a goal to provide 10 at-risk families with the necessary funding to incorporate in-vitro fertilization treatment into their conception planning.

One year later, the number of asks more than doubled, raising the stakes for Thursday’s luncheon – hence the move from boutique back-room to the ballroom at River Oaks Country Club.

That’s where a dizzying mix of 234 philanthropists, past and present Astros players, their significant others, and a few lucky fans helped raise $265,000.

“Technology allows the ability to eliminate HD from the family line forever,” explained Dr. Erin Furr Stimming via video presentation. She, along with her parents Jo and Jim Furr, husband Chris Stimming, and Elizabeth Elder served as the 2019 luncheon’s honorary chairs.

From the stage, Smith shared that over the past six months, he and LaForce received 24 grant applications from prospective parents requesting financial assistance to help fund their IVF procedures. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors and donors, the duo announced that all two dozen grant applications will be funded.

“This is what my passion is,” Smith said. “I want this disease gone.”

That’s when auctioneer extraordinaire Johnny Bravo stepped up to bat. He started with a paddles-up round of giving; at the highest-level – $25,000 – Justin Verlander and wife Kate Upton raised their hands.

Later, a bidding war ensued over a pair of field-level seats at Minute Maid Park for every home game through the rest of the season – yes, play-offs and (fingers crossed) World Series included. In the end, two winners walked away with the coveted prize after they each committed $15,000 for a total of $30,000.

Bill Johnston, the event’s honored speaker and special adviser to the San Diego Padres’ executive chairman, lost his wife, Ramona Johnston, to HD in April. There are approximately 30,000 Americans currently diagnosed with the disease, and another 200,000 children at-risk.

“How do you tell the people you love the most in the world, that one of their parents has a fatal brain disease, and that they’ll have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease as well?” Johnston said, with daughter Hayley by his side. “But thanks to Allie and Joe, and the work that they’re doing, we can end this disease.”


@allie.laforce

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