Astros reliever Joe Smith hopes to help eliminate Huntington's disease through IVF foundation

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/houston/" data-ylk="slk:Astros">Astros</a> reliever <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/7997/" data-ylk="slk:Joe Smith">Joe Smith</a> and his wife, Allie LaForce, are hoping to stamp out Huntington’s disease from their family with IVF. (Getty Images)
Astros reliever Joe Smith and his wife, Allie LaForce, are hoping to stamp out Huntington’s disease from their family with IVF. (Getty Images)

Houston Astros reliever Joe Smith has long dreamed of starting a family with his wife of four years, Allie LaForce, a reporter for Turner Sports. Only one thing has stopped them: Huntington’s disease.

Smith has seen his maternal grandmother live and die with the neurodegenerative disorder, and his mother, Lee, was diagnosed with it in 2012. Since Huntington’s is a hereditary disease, Smith has a 50-50 chance of having it himself and possibly passing it on to his children.

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But Smith and LaForce are optimistic because of medical innovation. Using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (PGD-IVF), the couple will be able to implant a healthy embryo that has been tested to not carry the Huntington’s gene. And through their foundation, HelpCureHD, they have raised over a million dollars to share this miracle of modern science with as many families as possible.

Smith and LaForce went on the “Today Show” on Monday to talk about their story, while the New York Post’s Kirsten Fleming also did extensive reporting on it as well. Although there is no known cure for Huntington’s, they hope to stop the spread of this disease through PGD-IVF.

Huntington’s affects 30,000 people in the United States with another 200,000 potentially at risk. It is often described as similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and is known to strike between ages 30 and 50, although Smith, 34, has not been tested because he doesn’t want to deal with the potential depression that could come with that reality.

But to eliminate virtually any chance of passing on the gene, Smith and LaForce are opting for PGD-IVF this spring. They are not going to be picking anything cosmetic about their child — hair color, eye color, height, weight — just the chance of passing on the deadly disease.

“The biggest reason is because with Huntington’s disease specifically, if you have children without it, it’s gone from the family line forever,” LaForce said on the “Today Show.” “It’s a miracle. It’s a version of the cure. If everyone were to do this to have a child, we could eliminate the disease.”

Unfortunately, PGD-IVF is not an option for many families, since insurance covers almost none of the costs related to the procedure. Smith and LaForce are expecting to pay at least $35,000 for the procedure, which they see as worth it for the well-being of their child.

Through their foundation, they help cover other families’ costs, and the Cleveland Clinic and Houston Fertility Institute have offered discounts to prospective parents referred to the hospitals by HelpCureHD.

There are certainly ethical gray areas surrounding the procedure as some question the idea of “playing God,” but Smith and LaForce, both of whom are religious, do not see this targeted plan as an issue. It’s something that has been important to their family for a long time.

“Last week, Lee told me she’s worried about her grandkids having Huntington’s,” LaForce said earlier this month, via the New York Post. “She was getting emotional. She shouldn’t have it but there’s an element of guilt. I said, ‘I promise our children won’t have HD.’ I wanted to give her as much comfort as I could. I told her that she has to hang on to meet her grandchild, who will be HD-free.”

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