For many years, Jason Borofka was one of the more impressive anglers in California, winning tournaments in several different series and qualifying for two Forrest Wood Cups.
Taking bits and pieces of his California style, Borofka has been able to find consistency in his first season as a Bassmaster Opens pro, and he hopes that consistency will be the key to securing a bid to the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Now a proud Texan, Borofka has been as high as third in the 2022 Opens Angler of the Year overall standings, but he stumbled a bit at Oneida Lake and is sitting in 12th place with four tournaments to go.
But whenever he has a bad day on the water, like he did at Oneida, all Borofka has to do is pick up the phone and see the faces of his wife, Tara, and his 3 1/2-year-old son, JT, and everything is okay again.
“I am not afraid, because even if I have a bad day or I feel kind of lost, I can FaceTime him and everything will be good,” he explained. “Just knowing he is okay and my wife is okay, that is helping me get through these tournaments and feel confident and not second guess.”
Two years ago, Borofka and Tara, who was also a force in the California tournament scene, stepped away from the sport they loved to care for JT, who was diagnosed with Triosephosphate Isomerase Deficiency when he was 3 months old.
An extremely rare and currently incurable disease, TPI Deficiency is characterized by a shortage of red blood cells (anemia), movement problems, increased susceptibility to infection and muscle weakness that can affect breathing and heart function.
It also stops you from processing sugar, which creates low cell energy and eventually makes your body paralyzed. At about 18 to 23 months, every child that has this condition gets his or her first illness, and their immune system drops and so does their muscle tone, Borofka said.
After the family pediatrician noticed how pale JT’s skin tone was, it took doctors at Stanford University Medical Center three months to figure out what was wrong.
“He is one of 10 kids who have it in the world right now,” Borofka said. “The doctor was the top cell doctor in the world, and he told us he had been doing it a long time, and it is the rarest thing he has ever seen. He said, ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do. He’s only got 3 to 5 years to live.’ In two months, JT was eating and breathing through a tube. We were in Stanford for two months on a floor that has people with the rarest diseases in the world.
“We sat around and cried for two weeks, and then I was looking at him and I was like, nope we aren’t going to give up,” Borofka said.
The family began to research and found one doctor who studied this specific disease, Michael Palladino at the University of Pittsburgh. As TPI Deficiency had no cure and limited resources have been devoted to the research before now, the Borofkas started a fundraising campaign called “Save JT” right after he was diagnosed. The campaign accepted donations that helped fund medical research about the disease and assist with medical expenses and treatments.
With the help of the California fishing community as well as other anglers and various fundraising events, the Borofkas have raised more than $700,000 to date.
After Borofka finished seventh at the 2021 B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series National Championship, Joe McElroy, who finished second in the event, donated his $5,000 prize to JT. This sparked a movement amongst the kayak fishing world and ultimately resulted in a nationwide online tournament that raised around $70,000 for the campaign.
All of those donations have been put to immediate use, and because of research, flesh samples and other tests, JT has stabilized. The Borofkas have noticed improvements in his body as well as his strength.
On top of that, doctors now know the disease is curable. It will just be a matter of time, whether that is a year or three years from now.
“We started raising money with a big boost from the fishing community, and everyone started helping. Next thing you know, we were funding a lab,” Borofka said. “Now, we have a compound they discovered in the lab with JT’s cells, and it increases TPI a little bit but it has been enough to stabilize him and make slight improvements in his body. It is buying him time and with all the new technology, we are seeing improvements. As of right now, they know the disease is 100% curable, and they are looking for it. We have been fortunate enough to fund that lab, and with that funding, social media and the big kayak tournament, increased the public eye. We got a major $2.5 million grant approved through the school (Pittsburgh) to fund the project.”
Not only will TPI Deficiency have a cure, but Borofka said doctors anticipate their research will help many people with other diseases.
“JT is going to change everything, and the labs are really focusing on it too because this disease resembles a lot of more widely known diseases, which are researched right now by pharmaceutical companies,” he explained. “When they come up with a cure and treatment for JT, they know it will leak out to other diseases, and it will help a lot more people. That is a big deal.”
Back on the water with hope
After taking two years off from tournament fishing, Borofka has picked up where he left off, notching a 10th-place at the second Southern Open at Cherokee Lake and cashing a check at the first Central Open at a tough Ross Barnett.
While California is a vastly different place to fish than anywhere on the East Coast, he has been able to find at least one similarity to a California lake at each venue this year. That has helped him at least start breaking down a particular fishery and accomplish his goal of catching limits.
“I think my main focus is on all of the nine Opens as a whole as opposed to winning,” Borofka said. “I am focusing on getting a limit every day, and if you look back at who has qualified and who has done well, it has been the guys who have caught a limit every day through the whole season. With these being all new lakes, they all have a little something I am used to from California. I have felt fortunate that when I show up to the lake, I feel at home on every body of water.”
The other factors that Borofka is adjusting to are the forage and the other predator fish that swim in eastern waters.
“(Over here), there are gar, drum and a bunch of other species of fish that bite your lures,” he explained. “In California, if I get bit and I can shake it off, I know it is a bass. We don’t have a lot of other fish except for stripers. That’s one thing that plays into my practices is hooking fish and adjusting to different types of baitfish. I am used to shad, rainbow trout and crawdads. Coming out here, there is everything.”
Since JT was born, Borofka has dreamed of sharing days on the water with his son, teaching him how to fish and bringing him to all of his tournaments. While that hasn’t come to fruition just yet due to the complications from the disease, JT loves playing around in Borofka’s Vexus and will soon be able to take short trips in the boat.
“He likes to sit in the Vexus and loves to play with the rod sleeves and has a couple of favorite rods he likes to play with,” he said. “We can’t take him on the water just yet. Now that he is doing a little better, he has been able to come off the ventilators. He is on vent trials, and we started at one hour and he is all the way up to three hours a day now breathing on his own.
“His lungs look good and are clear,” Borofka added. “His neck control is good, he can hold his head up. Technology is coming so fast, and the doctor here in Pittsburgh said as early as maybe a year, but maybe in 2 1/2 years, we can have something.”
While Borofka has enjoyed his time in the Opens so far, he is most looking forward to the Central Open on the Red River, where he will have JT, his wife Tara and friends and family there supporting him.
As JT’s health improves and a cure becomes more realistic, the next step will be purchasing an RV so the family can all travel together to events.
“I would like to get some type of RV, and we’ve been trying to figure out a way. I’m going to be working really hard between Opens to make that happen,” Borofka said. “That would be a dream. I am so excited they are coming to the Red River. When he was little, I remember carrying him up on stage, and if I was him, I would want to see everything too. He may not be able to communicate and talk, but he is watching everything, and I want him to see as much as he possibly can.”
The Borofka’s are still accepting donations for TPI Deficiency research so they can continue to help with the strong work that has been completed so far. To learn more about the disease and how you can help support the cause, visit SaveJT.com and follow the links to the GoFundMe page and the Borofka Family Fund at the University of Pittsburgh.