UTHealth, Astros Team Up to Give Huntington’s Patients a Day at the Ballpark

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by Mary Chapman |

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Houston Astros, Huntington's

Photo by Marcus Wright on Unsplash

With the support of Houston Astros pitcher Joe Smith and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), about 100 Huntington’s disease patients and their families got to relax for a few hours and take in a ballgame at Minute Maid Park.

The tickets for the Sept. 15 game were donated by Smith, whose mother is battling the inherited, progressive neurodegenerative disorder. The disease affects around 30,000 U.S. residents.

Also on hand for the game, and to support the area’s Huntington’s disease community, was Erin Furr-Stimming, MD, an associate professor of neurology at UTHealth. Furr-Stimming leads the Huntington’s disease program at McGovern Medical School, part of UTHealth.

Furr-Stimming works with a host of Huntington’s experts to help Huntington’s patients and advance research. The team includes scientists, physical therapists, a social worker, a genetic counselor, a psychiatrist, a neuropsychologist and a dietician.

“It takes a village and we’re in this for the long haul,” Furr-Stimming said in a press release. “Every day I’m inspired by my patients and their families, who show amazing courage and fortitude, striving to stay strong and never losing hope.

“Joe and his wife Allie, together with the Astros Foundation, have been so kind and they have given everyone such a magical experience. It lifted everyone’s spirits and was a dream come true, especially for the children.”

As a bonus, the Astros beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 10-4.

Before the game, Smith and his wife met the patients and their families, who got a stadium tour along with memorabilia and T-shirts imprinted with Strike Out HD. Smith posed for photos with attendees and happily signed souvenirs.

He also answered questions and spoke frankly about his mother’s disease.

“We’re all in this together,” said Smith, who joined the Astros this season and has embraced the local Huntington’s disease community. “I’m passionate about helping anyone affected by Huntington’s because I know how cruel the disease can be for both patients and their families.”

“Watching my mom suffer is the hardest part. But she wants me to keep playing and doing what I love. I want to be there for her, but she wants me to live my life,” he said. “We really hope everyone had an awesome time at the game and got to forget about the daily struggles for even just a few hours.”

Smith and his wife founded Help Cure HD, a foundation to help people rid their lineage of the Huntington’s disease gene. Gene carriers and those at risk can undergo genetic testing before in vitro fertilization to be certain they’re not passing along the gene.

“Huntington’s disease is hugely challenging, but we’ve got to keep raising awareness and stick together,” Smith said.

The UTHealth Huntington’s disease program is one of 43 Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Centers of Excellence, a prestigious designation denoting a world-class, multidisciplinary approach to Huntington’s disease and care. It’s the only such center in Texas.

Founded in 1967, the HDSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by Huntington’s disease