By Marc Risselin, Frasnes-Lez-Anvaing, Belgium
First of all, I want to introduce myself. My name is Marc Risselin. I am 17 years old. I was born in Belgium. Belgium is a small country with 11 million inhabitants, located between France and Germany. We are famous for our well-known beer, our waffles, our cycling and moto-cross champions. Since I was born, I have been treated by Professor B. François. In Belgium, you never give up your PKU diet, even after 20 years. I will start preparatory studies to become a nurse. I practice judo, love entomology (the study of animals).
Each year in the city where I live, the city officer organizes with teenagers and volunteers a trip dedicated to teenagers ages 16 to 20 years old. This organization is called Conseil Consultatif de la jeunesse de Frasnes-Les-Anvaing. In summer 1997, 60 teenagers were selected to take part in the trip to California. I was among them. The objective of the city officer is to teach these teenagers to discover the world and to create team spirit and initiative. We have to organize theatre plays, sport walks, contests, parties, etc. to raise money for the trip.
Organization of my trip: low protein food, formula, and fresh food
As you probably all know, dear American friends, we Europeans need a passport to come in your country, and we are not allowed to cross the border line with food or medicines from our land. I had to ask the doctors who are treating me in Belgium to write letters for me in order to bring my PKU products, L-tysosine capsules, a selenium supplement, and low protein pasta into the US.
I also had an attestation signed by the mayor and by the police, declaring that these medicines were vital for me. The American embassy in Belgium also gave me an attestation. Thanks to Ms Schuett, I received the address from the ENER-G company in the States where I could order my PKU products (pastas, biscuits, chocolate, bread). These products were sent to the Richelieu hotel in San Francisco the day I arrived, on June 28, 1997. The Ener-G Foods company is located in Seattle. The boss, Sam Wylde, was very friendly and helpful.
With the help from Professor François, we contacted more doctors specialized in PKU in the States, in case I would have some health problems. Dr. Buist Neil and Dr. Robert Steiner (Portland, Oregon) agreed to help me in case of problems. I want to thank them for their willingness to help me. Fortunately, I was healthy during the whole journey.
A short summary of my journey
After a flight of about 10,000 km (6,000 miles), which lasted 11 1/2 hours, we finally arrived in the States, very much looking forward to our stay. We arrived at San Francisco on June 28th, 1997. We stayed two nights in San Francisco in the Richelieu Hotel. We visited the most important monuments: Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and the famous streets and hills.
The second day of our journey in San Francisco, we met a Hollywood star, the comic Eddie Murphy. On the first of July, on our way to Yosemite National Park (magnificent!) we walked 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) in the park in order to see the gigantic redwoods. On the 3, after a tiring walk of 1 mile, we arrived at Death Valley. It was very hot (125,6° F, or 52° C!) and the water in the swimming pool outside the hotel was 95° F. We swam until 11.30 PM. At 5 AM, it still was 96.8° F!
On the 4th of July, we went to Las Vegas. We arrived at the National Day, so we could see the fireworks. It was 104 ° and we slept under the stars in a tent ... no problem!
After Las Vegas, we headed for Zion National Park. We arrived on the 6th of July in Lake Powell. We rode a horse for 3 hours and again we slept outside, under the stars, in Monument Valley. It was very wonderful! We also had the privilege of attending Indian dances (Navajo). It was super-great!
The 8th and the 9th of July were the most difficult days—15 miles by foot in the Grand Canyon with full rucksacks! And all this only to sleep under the open sky. We had to cross rivers with our bags, climbed mountains ... We had to wake up at 5.00 AM to go back all the 15 miles with all the loads. I was completely exhausted. Fortunately, I always ate the right food and I regularly checked my PHE level and my calories. The landscape was astonishing.
The next leg of our journey was a visit to Hollywood Boulevard, where we saw more Hollywood stars. Afterwards we visited Venice Beach, where we bought souvenirs.
Our plane took off from the Los Angeles airport at 6.30 PM. Just before we landed, an airline hostess announced to us that Harrison Ford was on board: another surprise to end our journey.
Back home, I went to my doctor to do a blood check. It was 20 mg/dl, too high—but I had had a wonderful experience that I would never forget. Eight days later, I did another check and my level had come down 3 mg/dl and 15 days later it had reached the average level of 9 mg/dl.
I will always remember the famous cities I visited (especially Las Vegas), the wonderful landscapes (Monument Valley, Grand Canyon) and the immensity of the country.
Some precautions based on my experience
During the hiking tours, I always equipped myself with a bag containing:
When our "monitors" were doing shopping for the 60 teenagers, I went with them to purchase:
Every two days, we bought food. But each time, I planned for provisions for 4 or 5 days instead of two, to make sure I had enough.
When we visited the cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas) we had dinner in a restaurant. I usually ordered a vegetarian meal: salad, tomatoes, shredded carrots, cauliflower, peaches, and a little portion of French fries.
In the evening, when we were in the national parks (Yosemite, Brice, the Grand Canyon), after long hikes, I weighed a large plate of pastas and I drank my amino acids in order to be in top condition the morning after. (I needed a lot of calories because we walked a lot, about 15 kilometers or 9 miles each day).
A little anecdote
After dragging behind me for miles and miles my box with PKU products, at the end of my sojourn, they wouldn't allow me to get on the plane with the rest of my products. I had to leave my box behind. The last day before we left, in Venice Beach, I had a splendid idea. Instead of throwing away my food, I went to see a homeless man who was sitting in the grass under a tree, and I asked him, "Are you hungry?" He answered me very sadly, "Yes." So I gave him some chocolate, pastas and PKU bread. You should have seen his face. He thanked my a lot and gave me a cordial and warm handshake. He had tears in his eyes. I hope I helped him.