Virtual camp hosted for families affected by rare disorder

Abby Williams, Managing Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all sorts of people, ranging from individual families to large organizations.

One of these groups of people affected by the pandemic are phenylketonurics- people born with phenylketonuria, also known as PKU.

PKU is a rare metabolic disorder where a person’s body doesn’t produce an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase, which is needed to break down an amino acid in protein. Because of this, phenylketonurics cannot have protein, and must be on a strict low-protein diet for their entire life.

The disorder is not very well known, and therefore does not have as much research or support as other conditions, making it difficult to raise awareness for PKU. Because of this, some people have taken it upon themselves to create support networks for families affected by PKU and allied disorders.

PKU Northwest, a non-profit organization created in 2003, hosts a family camp every year in Antelope, Oregon at Washington Family Ranch to bring families with PKU together. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the 2021 family camp was virtual.

“It was 100% virtual, so that was a whole new thing for us,” PKU Northwest president Jeb Haber said. “We typically have around 225 or so total campers with us in person in a very remote location in Oregon. This year, we had over 400 campers from all over the country and world.”

Hosted through Accelevents, the virtual camp was two days long and featured all sorts of events, such as sorting people into teams and creating team challenges, a video call for teens with PKU to discuss their experiences, and a virtual cooking class.

“We wanted it to be fun and engaging, so we had to come up with ways to make that happen,” Haber said. “The camp kit with all the gear and activities- shirts, bandanas, cooking and craft activities, and camp Olympics- was a huge part of our connection plan.”

The virtual camp was a success, with over 400 campers attending.

“42 states and six countries were represented,” Haber said. “That just isn’t possible in person.”

The increase in connections has created new camp ideas for PKU Northwest in the future.

“Now we get to figure out if we run hybrid events moving forward so that we keep the connection growing,” Haber said. “That’s a good challenge to have moving forward.”