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Mom With ALS Inspires Hot Pepper Challenge That’s Sweeping the Internet

Move over, Ice Bucket Challenge! There’s a new viral challenge in town and it’s a hot one, literally. Sports icons (like Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley), celebrities and people of all ages are recording themselves eating hot peppers—from pimentos to ghost peppers—to stop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) cold.

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive motor-neuron disease that affects the muscles and makes it harder to walk, talk, eat and breathe. Rough estimates say about 12,000 to 15,000 people in the U.S. have ALS, and the average life expectancy is two to five years from the time of diagnosis. Currently there is no cure, although the money raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge in the summer of 2014 funded the identification of a new gene associated with the disease. In May 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first new drug to treat ALS in more than 20 years.

The inspiration for a new ALS challenge started with the Haberstroh family from Connecticut. They believe that ALS is not an incurable disease—but, rather, an underfunded one.

Patty Haberstroh, a mom of four and grandmother of five, was diagnosed with ALS in October and is currently in its early stages. She’s still able to walk, drive and eat on her own, but the disease is starting to affect her energy and mobility. The 68-year-old has had to give up her decades-long tradition of walking several miles a day for three to five days a week with her friends.

“Compared to others with this disease, I was diagnosed quickly in only 10 months. I had feared the ALS diagnosis the entire time, so to eventually hear it was a huge blow, but not a surprise,” Patty told Mom.me. “I was devastated. I dreaded sharing the news with my kids—my husband was with me at the doctor—and that was probably the most sadly emotional moment of my life.”

I had feared the ALS diagnosis the entire time, so to eventually hear it was a huge blow.

But as a longtime social worker in the Department of Human Services, Patty isn’t a stranger to difficult situations.

“Social work is her passion and her job,” 32-year-old son Tom Haberstroh, the former NBA insider for ESPN and the co-founder of sports site Leverage the Chat, told Mom.me. “Hundreds of children in town have received Christmas presents thanks in part to my mother's work every year, setting up drives for families in need. She has also run an annual back-to-school program that gives backpacks, school supplies and gift cards to children and families in need. She has also been the loudest cheerer at basketball games in town since approximately 1995.”

Patty's wish this past Christmas was to help find a cure for ALS, so the family created the #ALSPepperChallenge with a goal of raising $50,000 in 90 days for ALS Therapy Development Institute, a drug discovery center focused solely on ALS. Less than 30 days into the campaign, the family has already reached 77 percent of their goal, but the Haberstrohs hope to continue the challenge and raise money for the cause for as long as possible.

The idea, similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, is that you eat a hot pepper of your choosing and endure the burn while on camera, then nominate three others to either eat a hot pepper and continue the trend or donate to the cause—or maybe even both! Nominees have 48 hours to decide.

Why hot peppers?

“Few things in this world (are) more human than eating a hot pepper. It makes you feel alive,” the campaign reads.

The Haberstrohs’ concept came to fruition around the same time that YouTube “Binging with Babish” star Andrew Rea started his own hot pepper challenge for ALS to commemorate his late friend Garmt van Soest, and both challenges were inspired by hot wings show “Hot Ones” on YouTube. The Haberstrohs and Rea hope to collaborate down the road.

What has been inspirational for Patty, though, has been seeing her family come together to help find a cure.

“I am completely blown away by their efforts!" she said. "Like any mother, I’m pretty proud of my kids and feel they have big hearts, but this is well beyond anything I could have anticipated. Their enthusiasm, dedication, perseverance and creativity are astonishing. It has brought our family closer together as we try to beat this monster,” she said.

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