Andrew Belliveau was just 10 years old when he learned he has gastroparesis, a condition that he says has left his "stomach paralyzed"
Andrew Belliveau, of Lynn, Massachusetts, was just 10 years old when he was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition that he says left his “stomach paralyzed,” causing him to starve from the inside out.
“I was so young at the time so I didn’t even understand what the doctor was saying. We’d never even heard of this, it was so shocking at the time,” Belliveau, 21, tells PEOPLE. “I had just started middle school and I came down with what I thought was your normal stomach bug, but as the weeks progressed it kept getting worse.”
Gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying, slows movement of food from the stomach through the digestive tract. Symptoms include nausea and severe vomiting. Belliveau says the condition is like living with the flu virus each day and “as much as you want to eat, your body is not allowing you to.”
“I had to force myself to eat, knowing I’d vomit it up a few hours later. I’d just hoped for the best, that I’d absorb any nutrients that I could. You pay the price for eating. It’s like you’re trapped inside your own body tying to get nutrients. You’re always hungry.”
Although most people with the illness are tube-fed, with some even starving to death, Belliveau says he has been fortunate enough to get a gastric stimulator — which he says eases his symptoms and allows him to eat normally as it functions like a “pacemaker for your stomach.”
Belliveau has been able to help bring awareness to the condition and to other people who suffer from the illness. He recently started the Gastroparesis Pie Face Challenge to raise awareness of the condition, encouraging people to take a pie to the face and donate to G-PACT, a non-profit organization that supports people with gastroparesis.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I can have my own Ice Bucket Challenge,’ ” he tells PEOPLE, noting that he was inspired by HASBRO’s “Pie Face!” game. “I was determined to get it off the ground.”
And he did. Athletes including Boston Red Sox players David Price, Brock Holt, Rick Porcello and more have taken part in the challenge. Their support is extra special to Belliveau, who says he loves to play baseball.
“To see these athletes take part in the challenge is something that truly means a lot to me,” he tells PEOPLE. “They’re inspirations for me to keep going and keep fighting through my illness. Baseball was kind of like my escape throughout it all, so to see them actually take part and help me in my effort … it’s really remarkable.”
He says he’s received messages from gastroparesis patients from around the world, many whom have credited Belliveau for giving them hope.
“Just hearing people, and receiving messages, saying, ‘You’ve given me newfound hope or you’re making my life easier or I thought I was alone,’ It’s just really cool to see how I’ve united millions of people,” Belliveau tells PEOPLE.