G-PACT was founded on August 23, 2001 by a handful of patients who were members of an online Yahoo! Support group for gastroparesis. The Yahoo! Group was started on Sept. 12, 2000.
The founder of G-PACT, Carissa Haston, graduated from college in 2000. Unable to attend graduate school for Art Therapy as planned due to health, she needed a way to reach out to others who were also suffering, find a purpose, and pass the long days on disability in an empowering way. So, she started a personal website still remembered today by many as the "Monkeygirl" site. This site focused on various aspects of gastroparesis, shared her personal story, and provided ways for patients to get involved in trying to get domperidone approved in the US. The page included a forum for people to connect with each other. Little did she know what her boredom would turn into! Not expecting much of a response, Carissa became so overwhelmed with e-mail she was unable to keep up with everyone! That's when she decided to start an online support group to give others the opportunity to more easily connect with each other. Only expecting, at most, 50-60 people to join, it rapidly grew to several hundred. Throughout conversations with others, the need was recognized for a non-profit organization dedicated to gastroparesis. That's when a small group of interested people came together to begin the process of starting G-PACT.
Initial plans and board meetings started in Feb, 2001. After months of planning, organizing, and filing necessary documents in the state of PA and with the IRS, G-PACT became an officially recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit on August 23, 2001. Although primarily focused in the US, we reach out to people in over 50 countries and have sister organizations in other countries as well.
The vision for G-PACT was multi-faceted. We recognized the lack of awareness and research funding. Our long-term goal was ultimately to find better treatment options and eventually a cure. However, we also recognized that a cure was long time in coming, and patients had many unmet current needs and needed other ways to receive support and have resources available to help make life with gastroparesis easier to manage until a cure was found. We recognized the lack of understanding and awareness among the medical profession, patients, and the general population. So many people were not being diagnosed or receiving inaccurate information and care! Therefore, we devoted a lot of our efforts not only to connecting with physicians and researchers, but into developing programs to assist patients in any way possible to get through the now. We understood the financial strain of medical expenses and did not want to add to that burden. Therefore, it became a strong policy to provide all of our services for free. No one in G-PACT is paid for what we do. All donations received go 100% towards our awareness, research, and advocacy work. We are dedicated to never requiring payment in return for anything we do.
Volunteers are scattered all over the country. Most are patients with severe cases battling this on a daily basis, so we truly do understand! That is why we fight so passionately! We work on a virtual basis from home. Locations include NY, PA, NC, and VA all the way to CA, MN, UT, WA, WI, and many others over the years! We selected the colors spring green and yellow to represent gastroparesis (story behind colors to come) and began to grow rapidly.
G-PACT experienced some big setbacks a few years after our founding with the death of an original founder and VP, Veronica Pennington, who joined for the sake of her son, Nicholas. Additionally, the necessary LOA of the President as she waited for and recovered from a full-GI tract transplant contributed to a period of slower growth. But, thanks to the help of a few other dedicated volunteers, G-PACT pulled through and began to take off rapidly towards our goals again in July, 2007 when some volunteers were able to return and new ones developed an interest.
In 2008, we attended our first meeting in Washington, DC to advocate on Capitol Hill with the Digestive Diseases National Coalition. We joined the board in 2009 providing us inside access to government officials to advocate for more research funding. In 2009, we also established August as international gastroparesis awareness month, encompassing the date of our founding on August 23. In 2009, we also added chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction as a condition to focus on. In 2011 colonic inertia was added to our list of covered conditions. We combine all of these conditions under one term we created known as "digestive tract paralysis" or "DTP," an easy to understand term for what happens in all of these conditions.
Recently, the years of hard work have begun to really pay off as we have been selected to be involved in unique opportunities to connect with researchers and share information with the FDA and Genetic Alliance through extensive patient surveys and meetings. This is the largest step towards solid research into understanding the needs of patients with paralytic conditions of the digestive tract. These studies will have a profound influence on the direction in which researchers focus their studies. We are so much closer to finding better treatment options than ever before. The groundwork has been laid, seeds being planted, and the growth will continue. We look to the future with hope and strongly believe that DTP will be eradicated in the future!