LYNN — Andrew Belliveau has a can of whipped cream and he’s not afraid to use it.
He looks downward Thursday afternoon, his Red Sox cap over his eyes as he fills a metal pie tin on his kitchen counter. He only stops when the can makes its final few sputters. This can may have only been half-full, he says.With no embarrassment or apprehension, perhaps a bit of nervous excitement, he takes the makeshift pie onto the back deck of his family’s Lynn home and swiftly raises it into his face.
As the cream drips from his face onto his Patriots sweatshirt and athletic pants, the 19-year-old smiles and gives a thumbs-up. It’s a signal that it’s someone else’s turn to take the Gastroparesis Pie Face Challenge.
Gastroparesis? Don’t worry; by now, Belliveau is used to the question, “Gastro-what?”
According to the website for the Gastroparesis Patient Association for Cures and Treatment, Inc., “Gastroparesis literally means paralyzed stomach. It is one of the most severe and complicated gastric motility disorders.”
A condition which the college student describes, a little more plainly, as the “worst stomach bug imaginable,” gastroparesis hit hard during Belliveau’s early adolescence.
“You wake up with constant nausea until you go to bed … vomit 20 times a day … can’t go out with people, you can’t function … you’re just confined and isolated,” Belliveau recalls from his most difficult days. Medicines didn’t seem to work, he said. And he tried a lot.
Belliveau’s mother, Eileen, said it was important for her family to get past what caused her son’s condition; rather, move forward.
Even as a nurse in the pediatric intensive unit at the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, with no family history of gastroparesis, Eileen was blindsided by her son’s diagnosis at age 11.
Attending school with gastroparesis wasn’t easy, Belliveau said, but “I was determined to not let it stop me.” His symptoms, however, shortened some of his school days to less than an hour.
In April 2012, Belliveau was able to take advantage of a gastric stimulator, a pacemaker for the stomach that sends electric shocks to kickstart the stomach; simply, a lifesaver, he said.
But it was a fight to get it. Eileen Belliveau detailed the “worst day ever” when her son’s pacemaker was declined by insurance. It was a decision that took hard work, letters from doctors, and travel to reverse.
And after a rocky few years, particularly from ages 11-15, the now-college sophomore has entered a more comfortable chapter.
He’s studying special education at Elms College in Chicopee. One day he might want to be a teacher or tutor at a hospital. At school, he finds special support in his girlfriend of almost three years, Kaitlin.
As for the Gastroparesis Pie Face Challenge, Belliveau said he was inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which exploded on social media in 2014. His premise is similar: if challenged, make a donation to G-PACT, get a pie in the face, or both.
Belliveau said 20 of his friends have accepted the challenge since he launched it in July.
The challenge also caught the attention of G-PACT, who sent Belliveau a letter in August. “When you believe in us enough to contribute, it gives us renewed motivation to continue fighting for better treatment options and a cure,” wrote Colleen Beener, operations director.
The pacemaker has helped return Belliveau’s life to 100 percent normal, he said. Still, it’s not effective for everybody and the disorder remains incurable.
“No one deserves to go through the symptoms of gastroparesis,” he said. “And I think the time for a cure is now.”
For more information or to get involved, visit https://www.g-pact.org/ or the Gastroparesis Pie Face Challenge on Facebook.
David Wilson can be reached at [email protected].