raven walton and julie chen

After 79 days in the “Big Brother” house, Raven Walton, the controversial contestant with gastroparesis, was evicted.

Walton, a 23-year-old dance teacher from Arkansas, was voted out by her fellow contestants Thursday night, becoming the sixth member of the jury that will decide the winner on September 20. Eleven other contestants had already been evicted and five remain.

Even before Walton entered the “Big Brother” house, she was open about having gastroparesis, as well as a gastric pacemaker to treat her symptoms. In pre-show interviews, she asked fans to use the hashtag #PacerPower when talking about her on social media and spoke frequently about her illness on the show. She even showed Bobby Moynihan, who hosted a competition on the show, her gastric pacemaker.

Her openness, however, was met with skepticism. Many viewers began questioning the severity of her condition and used social media (frequently under the hashtag #RavenExposedParty) to express their doubt that she is as ill as she claimed to be. Many said she and her mom, who also has gastroparesis, were trying to earn sympathy and donations.

While on the show, Walton wasn’t able to communicate with the outside world and hasn’t responded to the controversy surrounding her on social media. Immediately after being evicted, she seemed to indicate that she thought her fellow contestants believed the jury would vote for her to win the game due to her health issues. “I understand with my story and everything that they probably wouldn’t want to take me to the final two. I can fully understand their gameplay and I respect it,” she told “Big Brother” host Julie Chen.

In a post-show interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Walton said all the stories she told on the show (which ranged from details about her illness to anecdotes about her mom being struck by lightning) were true.

“I’m a storyteller! Everything I told in the house was true. Everything I’ve gone through, everything my mom went through, all the crazy stories I experienced, yeah! I just wanted to share how kooky I was,” she said.

Though some viewers may have questioned how she was able to be on the show, which requires contestants to live in the Big Brother house cut off from the outside world and compete in physical challenges, Walton told TV Guide it was “safe” for her to be on the show with gastroparesis.

“I’ve dealt with disease my whole life, I know how to take care of myself. I had my medicines. If I get sick, there’s nothing else they can do except say ‘take your medicine,'” Walton said. “This disease makes me who I am and I’m glad I got to share it with the world and spread the word at gastroparesis.”

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Raven Walton has never been shy about discussing her gastroparesis and gastric neurostimulator (also called a gastric pacemaker) as she’s competed on “Big Brother” this summer. So when former “Saturday Night Live” actor Bobby Moynihan stopped by the house to meet the contestants and host the Power of Veto competition, Walton gave him a peek at her pacemaker — and Moynihan responded with a joke that had viewers talking.

On Wednesday night’s episode, Moynihan surprised the contestants at the house and told them he’s a huge “Big Brother” fan and would be hosting the veto competition. He asked them to show him around the house and spent a few minutes chatting with the group.

At one point, Walton lifted up her shirt to show him her pacemaker. Moynihan smiled and laughed, saying, “First thing you have to see, everyone who comes in the house.”

In the Diary Room (where contestants go to talk privately to the camera), Moynihan cracked, “The second I meet Raven, she shows me her pacemaker. Maybe lead with a handshake?”

Watch the moment below:

Gastric neurostimulators are battery-operated devices implanted under the skin that deliver mild electrical pulses to the stomach muscle wall. Some patients with gastroparesis, a chronic illness in which stomach muscles don’t function properly, find that gastric “pacemakers” help their nausea and vomiting.

Viewers shared their reactions to the moment on Twitter, with some finding the moment shocking, inappropriate, or funny.

Moynihan’s comment, and viewers’ reactions, reflect the criticism Walton has been receiving since she entered the house: that she’s exaggerating her illness for attention and sympathy. However, others have appreciated the awareness Walton is bringing to gastroparesis and pointed out that it’s impossible for viewers to know all the details about her illness.

Photo courtesy of the Big Brother Facebook page


First, gastroparesis is a rare stomach disease where the stomach takes too long to empty. The stomach muscles in someone with gastroparesis are paralyzed, causing the food in the stomach to sit and produce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and fatigue. Around five million people in the United States have been diagnosed with gastroparesis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for gastroparesis and not many medical treatments options for symptom relief.

There are four words that I advise every gastroparesis patient to glue in their minds:

Don’t. Ever. Give. Up.

I understand times can be really hard. It sucks not to have answers to how this happened to you and how this disease completely changes the way you live your life.

Gastroparesis makes you deal with the daily struggles most people would never even think of. There’s the struggle of getting up out of bed when your body feels like a semi truck ran over it. Then the struggle of feeling like your going to puke your guts out every time you eat. Next you have to deal with your friends and family. These people are your rock, but it’s hard to constantly cancel plans on them or decide whether or not your stomach can really handle fun nights out. Even simple things like going to the grocery store, attending class, or even having a social life can be a huge struggle for you.

Most people don’t fully understand what you go through. They don’t understand this disease will never go away. They don’t understand how bad you really want to eat food, but that you can’t because of how sick it makes you feel. Your bad days are likely filled with tears and frustration, but that being said, you can’t let gastroparesis, or any chronic illness for that matter, keep you pulled down.

You stand up strong and you beat the hell out of this disease!

Smile. Laugh. Be happy.

Those three actions can get you past any challenge you face in life.

You are stronger than what most people will ever be. You know how to handle stress. You know how to deal with your emotions. You know how to battle challenges. Most importantly, you know life is about the precious moments that most people take for granted. Life is all about the little things. No matter how inconvenient gastroparesis is to your life, just remember… don’t ever give up! Challenges are what make life interesting, but overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.

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It’s a new school year at the College of Charleston. Things are exciting and happening so fast. You’re probably feeling anxious, excited, and perhaps even a little bit nervous. You’re excited about living away at school and being able to experience everything college has to offer. And if we are living together, I know you didn’t sign up to be my roommate and you’re going into the unknown, just like I am with you. But here are somethings that can help adjust living and going to school with someone who has chronic illnesses, such as gastroparesis.

1. I know seeing all this medical equipment can be kind of frightening, but don’t be scared of it. It’s helping keep me alive and it’s not going to hurt… unless you stub your toe on the IV pole.

2. Don’t be afraid to invite people to do things because you aren’t sure if they are able to do what you’re planning on doing. I can still do everything that people with non chronic illnesses do. I don’t let my illnesses limit me. I can still go out with everyone, go shopping, etc. But on the rare occasion I can’t do what you, I still appreciate you inviting me to go with you. I might not be able to eat, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to the dining hall with the suite or classmates. I go for the socialization aspect of it.

3. It might be weird seeing me carrying my medical backpack around campus, but please remember that it is helping me survive. I will be the girl bringing two backpacks to school because I may need my feeding tube during the daytime if my feeds do not finish overnight. Please don’t stare. If you don’t know what it is attached to me, please talk to me! I would love to explain to you why I have the machine and feeding tube. I would rather have you ask than continue staring. I am more than willing to answer any question you may think of.

4. I will have a weird nap schedule. I might take a nap at 5 p.m. and then wake up and go back to bed at 9 p.m. Going to classes and experiencing college life can be exhausting for everyone, but having chronic illnesses, can make it even more exhausting. Please be courteous if you see me napping at strange hours or sleeping in late some mornings.

5. If my feeding tube pump goes off in class, please don’t be alarmed. It sometimes goes off because of various reasons. I do not intend on it going off during class time, but it might.

To my professors: I might have to get up random times and excuse myself to throw up. I am not trying to get out of doing classwork or an in-class assignment. I will be back and I am not leaving to use my phone. I enjoy going to class.

6. Please remember I am a person just like you, and I want to be treated just like everyone else. I don’t want any special treatment or to be looked down on because I am not exactly like you and everyone else. There is a lot you don’t know about me and I want to be given a fair chance, without any sympathy.

7. Lastly, please remember that just because I have chronic illnesses, it doesn’t mean I don’t belong here. I belong here just as much as you. Please don’t judge who I am by just looking on the outside.

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Gastroparesis Awareness Month is almost over, but it’s not over yet.

You still have time to drop some wisdom on your loved ones or get the attention of thousands by doing the Gastroparesis Pie Face Challenge.

What we here at G-PACT did was, with some help from our friends at The Mighty, we asked you all a really tough question:

How has digestive tract paralysis changed you in a positive way?

Here’s what you said:

1. “I would not have traded a moment of the nights sleeping with my daughter to ensure her care or her stays with her in the hospital. We have become a closer family.” — Kim M.

2. “I learned to care for myself. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I listen to my body now when it’s screaming that I need rest or to take greater steps to stay healthy.” —Pamela H.

3. “I was forced to learn to slow down, breathe, take things into perspective and do whatever I could to stay calm under pressure. Take baths, try to find the humor, go for a small jog, try to look at the stressor from the perspective of someone else.” — Kallie S.

4. “It gave me hope that I might feel better one day, now that I finally have a diagnosis…” — Chantal M.

5. “I learned how to fight for my health and for my best self, despite discomfort and challenges, in a way I never dreamed that I had in me, and despite my ongoing struggle with medical issues, today my eating disorder is a thing of the past, and I truly practice self-care every day.” — Rachel N.

gpact image climbing over wall

6. “I have way more empathy for people suffering now. I think twice now and care when people tell me they are sick or in pain.” — Courtney V.

7. “It has made me proud of myself and accomplishments. Not in a boastful way, but in a way that reminds me I am beautiful, strong, and capable.” — Elizabeth N.

8. “Learning that times with family and friends don’t need to be about food. Conversation is the heart of these times. I don’t need to eat to be social.” — Elizabeth W.

9. “I became an author and had two books published because gastroparesis forced me to have to quit working at 25 and pushed me to send in my books. I also found out how much my family and husband truly love me. I am blessed despite gastroparesis and all it has taken from me.” — Kristen G.

10. “Our whole family is eating healthier.” — Jennifer F.

11. “It’s made me more vocal about what I need and it’s shown me who is really there for me.” — Stephanie D.

12. “I never take my good days for granted. In the two years since sepsis threatened to take me down, I have gone skydiving, whale watching, learned to snowboard, rode an elephant through a jungle in Thailand, piloted a helicopter, went on an 8,300-mile road trip by myself, took ice skating lessons, have spent countless days hiking, kayaking, camping, jet skiing, etc. Before I always wanted to do these things but kept putting them off. Now I live very much in the present.” — Erika H.

13. “I’ve learned that I’m stronger and more resilient than I thought I was. I take pride in that.” — Sarah-Jayne E.

14. “I’ve learned how to be an even better caregiver from all of my experience as a patient.” — Rachel B.

15. “It’s changed my life in good and bad ways. In bad ways, I don’t get to go to every place we eat anymore, and I can’t go out with my friends every Sunday evening. In good ways, I’ve learned that I am a strong person, and I’ve learned not to judge everyone with an invisible illness.” — Nicole K.

Thank you all for your feedback. We know that it isn’t always easy to find something positive about being sick, but that you have nonetheless, is inspiring.

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Laughter and stories filled the dining room each evening as my family spent quality time together eating dinner with each other. This summer was extra special because we had all four wonderful kids with us so the table was full with their innocent voices and sweet hearts. While everyone was enjoying their meal and talking about their day, on this particular night I sat in my yellow chair in unbearable pain. I was in a daze hoping this wave of intense stomach pain would pass, but it was apparent it was going to be one of those tough nights.

 

As the chatter continued, I silently stood up and removed myself from the table to escape to the kitchen so I could hide from my family so they would not see how much pain I was in. As badly as I wanted to be present with them, my instincts told me I needed to step away… the kids do not need to see me struggling.

Once there, I gripped onto the kitchen counter with my arms straight as a board trying to brace myself from the extreme pain and discomfort from tonight’s plain meal. My stomach was hard as a rock and I was bloated out like I was four months pregnant. My stomach organ felt like it was being tightly twisted and being rung out like an old dish towel. All I could think about was wanting to rip out my stomach and lay in a fetal position there on the cold tile floor.

black and white photo of woman's hands gripping tiled counter

Instead of attacking myself further, I dropped my head between my arms and began to breathe. By changing my focus from the agonizing pain to my breaths, it helped prevent my mind from escalating to all the “what ifs.” I tightly held onto the white tiled counter for five minutes taking deep breaths in and exhaling the pain from my abdomen. Mentally I was trying to tell myself I can and will get through this episode… it always passes. I just needed to stay strong.

Unfortunately, my meditative breaths did not help so my next option was to try to walk it out. My hunched over body went outside and moved at a sloths pace to the end of the street and back to try to help my vascular system pump my blood back to my struggling organ. My walk did me no good and I soon was found dry heaving in the cold shower for 10 minutes. Once the wave of nausea passed, it took with it my last drop of energy. I had nothing left in me and had hit my max limit of exhaustion and fatigue. My body was done. It had used up every ounce of energy to fight this ugly internal battle.

This episode happened because I struggle with a stomach condition called gastroparesis (GP) which affects my body’s ability to digest food normally. The word gastroparesis literally means “paralyzed stomach.” Since I developed this condition as a result of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), I have formed a love-hate relationship with food, but mostly hate. Every time I consume something, fear is in my mind that once that item reaches my stomach the extended list of symptoms such as nausea, dry heaving, extreme bloating, gut-wrenching pain and uncomfortableness all could happen. My fingers are constantly crossed hoping that each time I fuel my body, it will accept the food without a fight.

Living with this condition can be very isolating and frustrating, especially when I am around people who do not have food intolerances. I would give anything to have one symptom-free day to indulge in all the unhealthy tasty foods and drinks my old self used to love. Unfortunately, that is not my reality and I have to eat extremely clean, have self-control and stay away from my long list of “no foods” to try to keep my awful symptoms at bay. I am still coming to terms with not being able to live like every other normal human, but I know that too will come with time.

Out of all the medical conditions I struggle with, gastroparesis is the one that scares me the most because it is so unpredictable. It can rear its ugly head at any moment, and it is in charge of how long it will be destructive, which could mean life or death.

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