Purdue’s Coach Painter competes for votes for child with rare disease

Coach Painter competes for votes  (Provided Photo/ WLFI)
Coach Painter competes for votes (Provided Photo/ WLFI)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI)- A genetic disease has challenged one family. Now, Purdue Men’s Basketball Coach Matt Painter hopes another kind of challenge can help find a cure.

The Smith family is a Boilermaker basketball family. Although Keaton Smith has lost the ability to communicate, his mom Julie said he perks up whenever he hears the band and the cheers of the crowd in Mackey Arena. The 13-year-old has Niemann Pick Type C, a genetic, neurodegenerative disease.

“He lost his ability to walk a couple years ago,” Julie Smith said. “His spine is his biggest issue right now. He’s got a curved spine so he has a hard time sitting up.”

Of the Smith’s four children, three were diagnosed with the disease. Keaton’s 10-year-old brother died in 2006 and 15-year-old sister Riley died in January.

The family started the Smith Family BReaK Thru Fund to raise money for Niemann Pick Type C research.

“However, right now, we are just treating symptoms,” Keaton’s father, Trent Smith, said. “We’re just trying to slow down progression of the disease. Trying to get that cure is still several steps away.”

The Smiths have made it their life mission to enhance research on the disease, and Painter is hoping to help. Painter is involved in the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, where college basketball coaches compete for votes to help win their charity of choice money, our sister station WLFI reports.

The winner’s charity gets $100,000. Painter’s charity of choice is The Smith Family BReaK Thru Fund.

“Just the exposure it’s getting though the Infiniti challenge I think is great for them as a family,” Painter said. “Hopefully someday there can be a cure for this.”

Last year, Painter won the fund $5,000 through the challenge. This year, he has made it to the final four, guaranteeing the fund $15,000. Julie Smith said every vote could end up saving a life.

“If you’re sitting at home and you look at the percentages, and we are down quite a bit, don’t think ‘Oh maybe next year,’” Julie Smith said. “Every vote counts, and everyone can make a difference.”

The challenge may just be another way Purdue basketball has helped save the Smith family. Voting ends on March 16. To vote for Matt Painter click here.

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