WILLIAMSPORT, PA (KTRE) - A Lufkin man and his son have each made it to the Little League World Series as spectators, but each have competed to get there in life and overcome the odds.
In 2008, Brent Slaton and his wife witnessed the birth of their son, Mack. Mack was born at 29 weeks into his mother's pregnancy and weighed less than three pounds.
In 2014, Slaton learned he had contracted scleroderma, an extremely rare autoimmune disease which affects the body's stem and organs.
In prior cases like these, there are times where neither father nor son would be alive today. But each is very much alive and living it up right now in Williamsport.
Slaton serves on the Lufkin Little League board and his son is friends with players on the team.
"When we went to the state game in Houston and we realized how we stacked up, we knew we had a chance to go to Williamsport," Slaton said. "My son was very pumped and said, 'if they win, we're going.' And I said 'ok.'"
Slaton began feeling the symptoms of scleroderma in April of 2014. He said he had sensitivity in his hands which turned to inflammation in his hands, feet and face. Four months later, he started noticing difficulty in his breathing when he did more stressful activity, like climbing stairs.
It took a lot of testing and six months before he was finally diagnosed with the disease.
"It was very frustrating not knowing what I had," Slaton said. "I ended up being diagnosed with an autoimmune deficiency, but there are thousands of those."
After Slaton finally got the diagnosis, he made the decision to undergo an extremely rare stem cell transplant last year.
"I'm only the eighth person in the world to get this kind of treatment," he said.
Today, Slaton still feels the effects. The treatment has him feeling a little better, but it has kept him from getting worse. He uses oxygen and has to stay away from strenuous activity. Under his rare circumstances, doctors can't provide a prognosis.
"My doctor told me I'm one in a million," Slaton said. "And so they don't really have a sample to give a prognosis."
Rather than fearing for his life every day, Slaton chooses to make the most of each day.
"Anytime you're faced with something that's life-threatening, it definitely changes your outlook," Slaton said. "There's no reason to worry. Just live your life and hopefully the good Lord looks after you and you just enjoy life. So since then, I've been finding stuff like this to do."
Slaton teaches the same thing to his son.
While Mack was born premature, doctors in NICU in Shreveport took care of him and Mack did not suffer from any complications. Six weeks after his birth, his parents took him home.
"That's something I told my son," Slaton said. "We talked about him being born premature and him being a fighter and not letting obstacles get in the way. I've even talked to him about my disease and how every day is a battle and you just got to keep battling. I can correlate that to his prematurity and how proud I am of him and use it for my own battle."
Mack said he was worried about his dad when he was sick.
"I got a little scared, but I know he's going to be OK," Mack said.
Today Slaton and Mack are in Williamsport, but it took a little convincing of Slaton's wife, Shelly.
"Mack and I decided we were going to come, but my wife said, 'No, not just the two of y'all.'"
So Shelly put a call in to her parents.
"She told them, 'Brent and Mack are going, but the only way they're going is if y'all are going,'" Slaton said. "They were more than happy to come and my nephew came as well."
While the Lufkin All-Stars fight each day to stay alive in the World Series, they can know they have two special supporters who are thankful each day to have the ability to root them on.