an all-star night
Houston Astros stars cheer on Allie LaForce and former Astros pitcher Joe Smith at their unforgettable, $600,000 gala
With its big-league setting at Minute Maid Park, the who’s-who crowd of Houston Astros players and wives, and upbeat, party vibe, the HelpCureHD Gala guarantees a night full of scene-stealing moments every year.
And the recent event at Union Station may have topped them all — and not because it raised a record $600,000 for the fight against the accursed Huntington’s Disease.
Those moments are all thanks to power sports couple and founders Allie LaForce, the respected, fan-favorite TNT sports reporter, and her husband Joe Smith, a former Houston Astros and MLB pitcher. The dynamic duo has always turned the spotlight to a couple they have helped receive fertility treatments in order to have a baby free of the incurable Huntington’s Disease — which is best described as the worst combination of Alzheimers and Parkinson’s Disease.
At each event, a thankful couple, their beautiful baby, and their gripping story leaves the audience in tears and rousing applause.
True MVPs celebrate a championship moment
But this year, with respect to those other deserving families, may have topped them all. For years, LaForce and Smith have tirelessly worked and sacrificed to make more than 135 couples' dreams of a healthy baby come true. All the while, LaForce endured the physically and emotionally painful roller coaster of PGD-IVF treatments (more on those later) for their own dream baby while Smith lovingly cheered her on — that ultimately wouldn’t take.
Imagine the applause, then, when LaForce and Smith walked onstage with their beautiful — and HD-free — little son Jacob, who was born in November. Wiggly and well-dressed Jacob, held by his beaming and proud Mom, stole the show by trying to pry the mic out of his Dad’s hand while Smith thanked the audience.
“The way Joe looked at Jacob when he saw him on the stage, that will be an image in my soul forever,” LaForce tells CultureMap. “Jake is proof that it is all worth it — and that Joe doesn't have to feel guilty for the pain I went through, because everything is going to be okay.”
Tears. Applause. Game on
After a VIP reception, it was on to the gala, which boasted a well-dressed crowd, a sax player holding a single note for three (yes, three) minutes while egged on by emcee Johnny Bravo, a lively silent auction — where Astros owner Jim Crane even offered to have his lovely wife Whitney bring a bottle of champagne to the winners of his donation: a four-day luxury retreat to his Floridian National Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (We're guessing Mrs. Crane will pass the delivery on to someone else.)
Guests feasted on dinner and dessert and mixed and mingled (we caught of a few seconds of Thursday Night Football game on Alex Bregman's phone and joked about our time with him at his recent Raising Cane's job, while his wife — and CultureMap columnist— Reagan chatted with presenting sponsors Danny and Iris Shaftel of Shaftel Diamonds).
Speaking of Shaftel Diamonds, the company created a dazzling, one-of-a-kind necklace created with LaForce as the highlighted item for the evening’s raffle. Big spenders bid on silent auction items for ladies and Houston Astros experiences and memorabilia for the guys. Astros players showed up — and paid up — for the worthy cause.
LaForce also made sure to recognize the medical treatment team who helped her with her own Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnoses and In Vitro Fertilization (the aforementioned PGD-IVF), where specialists can screen embryos for the disease before they are implanted.
That process was even more poignant with a video of Smith's mother Lee Smith. As LaForce shared with CultureMap in the past, Lee was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease in 2012 and passed in 2020, just shy of her 62nd birthday. Making HD more sinister is the fact that there is a 50 percent chance of passing the disease on to children.
LaForce and Smith promised Lee they would have a child free of the disease, which made her light up. No doubt, she was there, cheering them on. (Smith's beaming Dad is always in attendance.)
More on the way
That's why LaForce and Smith throw the annual gala and help fund the HelpCureHD grant: to find a cure for HD and cover the costs of PGD-IVF services. The no-nonsense, nonstop (literally) LaForce isn't shy about her plan for next year's event. “My goal is to raise $1 million at the next gala,” she says “ More money, more families. That simple.”
Awesome. But we had to ask: After seeing handsome Jacob, any plans for more kiddos? She didn't miss a beat.
“I have three embryos left and absolutely plan on transferring them all!”
We'll be cheering you on, Allie.
Seen in the crowd: Whitney and Jim Crane, Melissa and Dusty Baker, Reagan and Alex Bregman, Melissa and Dusty Baker, Michael Brantley, Adrienne and Jared Crane, Kat and Ryan Pressly,Kyle Tucker, Rachel and Jeff Bagwell, Marla Hurley, Dr. Erin Furr-Stimming and Chris Stimming, Jo Furr, Dr. Dottie Roach, Robert Clay and Dana Barton, Danny and Iris Shaftel, Rachel and Jeff Bagwell, Dean Putterman, Ed Finger, Elizabeth and John Elder, Dr. Sherri Levin, Bill Baldwin and Fady Armanious.