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Joel Belt. (Special to the American Press)

Joel Belt. (Special to the American Press)

Jennings family stays strong despite 3-year-old's life-threatening disease

Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 10:04 PM

By Doris Maricle / American Press

JENNINGS — With his curly blond hair, big eyes and bright smile, 3-year-old Joel Belt appears to be the picture of health. He loves to play with his toys, tries to keep up with his two older brothers and likes Popeyes chicken.

But Joel has pulmonary hypertension, a rare, life-threatening disease caused by high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs that can lead to heart failure. Doctors see only 300-500 cases a year.

“It puts a different perspective on life because we don’t know how long he will be with us,” mother Lindsey Belt said. “It has made us value family and friends.”

Doctors have given Joel six months to a year to live.

“He has a really bad diagnosis and it’s not good, but we want people to see our faith in Christ and encourage others for whatever they may be going through,” said Joel’s father, Josh Belt, a pastor at Our Savior’s Church in Jennings.

Although devastated, the Belts are not giving up hope or their faith.

“We trust in God to work things out for our good, however painful,” Josh Belt said. “God has had his hands on our lives. He has been the provider, comforter and peace for us.

“It has been hard and rough on our lives, but we have a new norm now. We still have our son in our lives and we live each day anew. We don’t take things for granted anymore.”

Pulmonary hypertension is often misdiagnosed as asthma, as was the case with Joel.

“For two or three months he was diagnosed with asthma, but it was more than that, “ Lindsey Belt said.

She first realized something might be wrong with Joel’s health shortly after last Christmas.

“He had shortness of breath and was getting tired and out of breath very easily,” she said. “He was sleeping all day, lethargic, coughing and his stomach was upset.”

Doctors believed it was asthma or the flu, but just a day into the new year, Joel was getting weaker. Just playing with a toy truck or lifting his arms meant shortness of breath, Lindsey Belt said.

On Jan. 2, Lindsey took Joel to the doctor and was immediately sent to Lake Charles Memorial, where a doctor said he had congestive heart failure. A pediatric cardiologist later diagnosed severe pulmonary hypertension.

“He had been healthy to that point,” Lindsey Belt said.

Since then, Joel has undergone many tests and seen multiple doctors in three states.

He has spent more than 40 days in and out of hospitals in Lake Charles, New Orleans and Houston since the diagnosis. His most recent trip was to a hospital in Colorado, where doctors tried to determine if a double lung transplant would help.

The Belts say Joel has three options: medicine for life, a double lung transplant or a miracle. They are hoping for the miracle.

“Either way, transplant or not, he is going to be on a lot of medicines,” Lindsey Belt said.

He takes nearly half a dozen oral medications and carries a backpack for IV medication that is being infused directly into his heart 24 hours a day.

In the past 25 years nine Food and Drug Administration treatments have been approved for adults, but none for children.

The Belts hope the Color PHor A Cure 5K race will help raise awareness and money to help researchers find a treatment and cure for children like Joel.

The race will begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 12 at the Jennings Elementary School football field, at 620 Florence St.

The event is being billed as the “biggest and brightest 5K race” with more than 1,000 runners from more than 30 cities and three states expected to lace up their shoes for the cause, Josh Belt said.

The runners will be “blasted” with bright colors from color bombers along the route.

“Once they cross the finish line, they are going to be looking like a pack of Skittles,” he said. “Our focus is going to be less on speed and more on crazy, color fun.”

Organizers hope to raise $40,000 from the race and the sale of T-shirts, bracelets and other merchandise for the Dr. Robyn J. Barst Pediatric Research and Mentoring Fund for Pulmonary Hypertension.

• • •

For more information on the race, to volunteer or become a sponsor, go to or call Josh Belt at 337-739-1129.

Posted By: Ali McCluer On: 10/25/2013

Title: Cutest Boy EVER!!!!!!

I love little Joel!!

Posted By: Loretta Leger On: 9/1/2013

Title: So proud to know this family.

Josh & Lindsey I am so proud to say I know you guys, your faith is astounding & I love the fact that you are trusting GOD through this ordeal. Our prayers are with you. Love, Loretta

Posted By: Teresa Meyers On: 9/1/2013

Title: We are in this PHight with you

The Belt family. Shaye is in this PHight with you. She too has PH and lives in Houston. You guys are making a big impact in the PH community. Thank you for PHighting.

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