TNT
January 20, 2018 04:18 PM

Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley are bringing the heat to ALS awareness.

After the famed Ice Bucket Challenge raised millions for ALS research in 2014, one family has stepped in to turn that research into a cure through the #ALSPepperChallenge — and they have the world of sports on board.

Last October, social worker Patty Haberstroh of Westport, Connecticut, was diagnosed with ALS. Her family, including her son Tom, a former ESPN announcer, immediately jumped into action. On Christmas Day, the Haberstroh clan posted a video of themselves eating hot peppers and daring their friends to do the same in the name of raising funds for ALS.

In just a few weeks, celebrities like O’Neal, Barkley, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and ESPN’s Rachel Nichols have chomped on hot peppers, all while helping to raise almost $50,000 (including Facebook donations, which take two weeks to clear).

“My brother Chuck and I are obsessed with a YouTube show called Hot Ones, where Sean Evans interviews celebrities while they both munch on increasingly spicy wings,” Tom tells PEOPLE of how the idea came about. “The Gabrielle Union one was amazing, and we watched [it] with our mom over Thanksgiving break. And it hit us, why not just eat a pepper and post the video like the Ice Bucket Challenge?”

“I’d never eaten a habanero, and I never want to again, but I’ll eat it a thousand more times if it means my mother and others living with ALS can kick this horrible disease,” he adds. “There is no effective treatment for ALS. There is no cure. Anything we can do to change that, we’re going to try.”

Patty turned to her librarian friend and fellow ALS sufferer Nancy Clark who did extensive research and recommended ALS Therapy Development Institute, the world leader in ALS research. Patty believes deeply in their motto that ALS is not an incurable disease, it is an underfunded one.

“I’d certainly heard of ALS, and in a cruel irony had always thought it would be the worst disease you could ever get. Why? Because as your body is progressively failing you, your mind knows it and is perfectly fine. That is what I’m finding to be most difficult,” Patty says. “But the outpouring of support from friends, my kids’ friends, ALS patients and their families is bringing me tremendous joy.”

“I’m fighting against time here — average life span from diagnosis is three to five years, and I pray that these hot pepper eaters are raising enough money to find a cure for me and others before it’s too late,” Patty says. “It truly is an underfunded disease. Promising drugs in animal tests are ready for human trials but over one million dollars is needed to get them started.”

“My mom wanted to focus on a cure, and ALS TDI is dedicated 24/7 towards finding one,” Chuck says. He explains that the Ice Bucket challenge raised incredible awareness and launched important trials, but they still need a cure. “We are hoping peppers can put us over the top,” he jokes.

“The adage to live each day fully has never rung more true to me. I’m saying to people that I’m lucky in that you often wish in a memorial service that the person who has passed away could hear the wonderful things being said about them. I am reading and seeing those things said while I’m very much here!” Patty says.

To donate, visit The ALS Hot Pepper Challenge’s Classy page and upload your own version using the hashtag #ALSPepperChallenge.

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