All posts by Morgan Smith

EpiPens in Denmark

Hi everyone! It’s Morgan. I’m currently researching small business growth in Denmark at the moment, but I decided to take a quick reprieve from my research and look into EpiPen® pricing here in this country.

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Copenhagen!

The recent outrage over Mylan’s price increases certainly has made international news. Heather Bresch is now viewed as a challenger to Martin Shkreli as worst CEO of a pharmaceutical company, ever. Good.

Seeing all the news and congressional inquiries started to make me think: why does the US have this problem? Is it only a US issue? Why can Mylan get away with this blatant price gouging?

Doing a full cross-country comparison among developed countries in North America and Europe would take a few weeks, so I decided to examine how Denmark does it.

Background

Denmark has a publicly funded health care system with mixed governance structures: the national government sets health care goals, policies, and tax structures while regional and municipal governments oversee the delivery of health care and process payments and reimbursements.

All Danish citizens qualify to be a part of the health care system and self-identify into two groups:

  1. Group 1. 97% Danes select to be in Group 1. It’s entirely free to visit a general practitioner (GP), but you need to get a recommendation to visit a specialist. If you visit a specialist upon recommendation of your GP, it’s entirely free.
  2. Group 2. 3% Danes select to be in Group 2. You can visit GPs or specialists at your pleasure and don’t need recommendations. All GP visits are free, but there’s only partial coverage of costs for specialists.

Denmark offers on-the-spot reimbursements for pharmaceutical costs (more on that later) and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Group 1 or 2.

Pharmaceutical Delivery

Let’s say I’m the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Let’s call this company Molfyne and say it mainly produces anti-depressants. Let’s also assume that I’m licensed by the Danish government to produce and sell pharmaceuticals in Denmark.

Molfyne would need to apply to the Danish Medicines Agency, a national agency, to have its drug recognized and sold in Denmark. I would need to file an application with the Danish Medicines Agency (DMA) and tell them my selling price of my drug to Danish pharmacies. I also submit documentation regarding the effectiveness, side-effects, and value-added of the drug (among other information) to DMA and wait for their response.

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DMA determines whether the drug will be reimbursed or not based on those factors. It’s not entirely clear from my research whether DMA “negotiates” with my company over my price offered, but I suspect there might be a little negotiating.

Then, if approved, my anti-depressants are bought either by Denmark’s hospital drug procurement company (called Amgros) or by private wholesalers who sell to local pharmacies. If a patient is prescribed my drug in a hospital, there’s no co-pay or any payment since any and all pharmaceuticals are provided by the hospital and payed for by taxpayers.

If a patient is prescribed my drug by their GP or specialist and needs to buy it from a local pharmacy, they are reimbursed on-the-spot by the Danish government on a tiered system. This means that if a drug cost $50 and they qualified for a “$10 reimbursement,” they would only pay the pharmacy $40. This tiered reimbursement system is determined by how much you’ve spent on pharmaceuticals this calendar year. These tiers are 2015 numbers and are adjusted annually.

(DKK refers to the Danish Krone, their currency; $ is US Dollars)

  • You pay out of pocket up to DKK 925 ($138)
  • You get a 50% reimbursement for DKK 925 to DKK 1515 ($138 — $227)
  • You get a 75% reimbursement for DKK 1515 to DKK 3280 ($227 — $491)
  • You get an 85% reimbursement for expenses higher than DKK 3280 ($491)
  • You get a 100% reimbursement for expenses higher than DKK 3830 ($574)

To translate this, if I need to get $200 worth of drugs in February, I pay $138 out of pocket, and get 50% off the remaining $62. But if I need to buy $200 of drugs in June, I get the 50% reimbursement on the leftover of the second tier ($27 worth), and get a 75% reimbursement on the remaining cost. It means the more drugs you need to purchase, the less expensive it gets for you.

There’s only one catch: reimbursements are calculated based on the least expensive generic product. Pharmacies are required to issue the least expensive generic product, unless a doctor says otherwise (this is unusual). So, if your doctors says “not the generic one” you may have to pay a bit more, but it is still heavily reimbursed.

EpiPens in Denmark

Denmark makes it really easy to find out how much drugs cost across the board: they even have a website (http://www.medicinpriser.dk/) you can explore. It is in Danish, but you can select “English” in the upper right to view it in English.

If you search “EpiPen” you get this screen:

epipens

Notice that there are three items for 0.3 mg doses (the Stryrke column) from three pharmaceutical companies: 2care4, Orifarm, and Meda (the Firma column). Look at the consumer price (far right column)! 440 DKK is the equivalent of about $66. This means that you would pay $66 for an EpiPen® (a single one, not a two pack). The Meda EpiPen® costs 446.15 DKK, which is about $67. Really not much difference between the companies.

I was blown away seeing this. $66 for one EpiPen is cheap, even though it is an increase from previous years. Furthermore, if I have other drug costs from the year and need to get an EpiPen, this could cost me $33 (50% reimbursement), or ~$16 ($75% reimbursement). That’s quite inexpensive.

Lastly, drug companies are only allowed to adjust prices every other Monday, and they must be publicly recorded with the Danish government. There is also a law-binding agreement between an association of pharmaceutical companies (called Lif) and the Danish Ministry of Health to only raise drug prices ~1.5% every 4 years. Only some companies, like Sanofi and Pfizer, are a part of this association.

What’s the Trade-Off?

Obviously, this lower price for an EpiPen® is not happenstance. But, before we get to taxes, I’d like to note two important changes in the Danish system:

  1. Drugs available to hospitals are negotiated by one sole entity. There is a “monopsony,” a literal single buyer in that market (Amgros). Amgros is the only entity that provides Danish hospitals drugs and therefore drug companies have to negotiate with Amgros to sell their drugs. This means an emergency responder or a hospital does not need to worry about using an EpiPen® since the price is reasonable.
  2. Drug reimbursements are approved by a national health authority, the Danish Medicines Agency. As I clarified earlier, I can’t find too much about the DMA negotiating with drug companies, but I bet they wouldn’t approve reimbursements for drugs that are exorbitantly expensive, which means Danes wouldn’t have access to them by any practical means.

On to taxes.

You pay 8% on all gross income — regular income, wages, pension benefits, and so forth. There are deductions for interest dividends up to about $7,000 a year.

Then, you pay the following national income taxes (2014 rates):

  • 5.83% for incomes between 42,900 DKK to 421,000 DKK ($6,420 to $63,100)
  • 15% for incomes above 421,000 DKK (above $63,100)

You also pay between 23% and 28% to your municipality (averaging about 24% across Denmark). They’re merging their national healthcare contribution tax (3% for 2016) into their national income taxes over the next few years, but you pay that too. In total, you could pay upwards of about 57% of your income to governments of various levels every year. That’s a lot of taxes.

Oh and there’s a 25% value-added tax (kind of like a sales tax) on all goods.

Benefits

The Danish government provides a lot more than just universal healthcare in exchange for those taxes. There’s extensive unemployment insurance, social security, education (including higher education), job training, and vocation schools. Plus you get the “normal” benefits like paved roads and national security. This kind of system is referred to as the “Scandinavian welfare model.”

Lessons for the United States

Health care is a complicated system. There are pharmacies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, emergency providers, private practices, and so much more. Denmark decided to basically keep most of that private (only doctors at hospitals are “public employees”; most health care providers are private employees) but fund it all publicly. They figured out ways to keep regulatory compliance low and efficient.

It’s also important to note there are a lot of differences between the United States and Denmark. Geographic size, population, and regional inequalities all play a role. If you live in a rural region of Denmark, you’re going to get the same kind of schooling or access to health care as kids in Copenhagen — that’s not necessarily true of Mississippi versus Minnesota. Denmark is only 5 million people large; that’s barely the size of Colorado. And, of course, it’s a tiny maritime nation on the north end of Germany versus half of the North American continent.

Nonetheless, I think there a few key takeaways:

  1. The US needs to get serious about price negotiations. The Economist recently ran an article on EpiPen® pricing and the failures of the US system (note: there might be a paywall). It’s illegal for Medicare, our nation’s largest health insurance entity, to negotiate with drug companies on pricing. Only private health insurance companies can do that and they’re heavily constrained in their negotiating — only in 6 broad categories. The idea behind this choice was that competition would result in lower prices, but it obviously hasn’t worked. From the article: “As a result America spends 44% more on drugs per person than Canada, the next-highest.”  That isn’t working. A publicly funded entity like Amgros could help lessen the price of drugs across the board, but it’d be very politically unpopular.
  2. The US needs to get serious about pharmaceutical influence in politics. Denmark spends about 9.8% of its GDP each year on healthcare (12.4% of that total expenditure is on pharmaceuticals) and pharmaceutical companies comprise about 13.5% of its exports. Pharma is big in Denmark. To compare, all machinery exported by US companies comprised 13.7% of our exports. The Danish government has every reason to bolster their pharmaceutical industry and loosen regulations, but they don’t. On the flip side, as the Economist article pointed out, “[Mylan’s] chief executive, Heather Bresch, heads the generic-drugs lobby and is the daughter of an American senator.” There’s some questionable influences in American politics over our regulation of and choices regarding the pharmaceutical industry.
  3. Lastly, the US needs to get serious about insurance reform. Drug companies are notorious about offering coupons and deals for many of their more expensive drugs, especially if your insurance doesn’t cover their drug. They do this so they “look good” and can avoid regulation by Washington. But, they don’t do this for insurance companies. Insurance companies have to pay for the expensive drugs without the deals some consumers gets. In the long-run, that raises insurance prices for everyone. The Affordable Care Act (y’know, Obamacare) only did so much to combat that and, in some cases, ran counter to that goal by causing insurance price increases.

We need some serious healthcare reform. Most of it is going to be opposed because (from the Economist, again) “the only thing that Americans detest more than an expensive drug is a bureaucrat who says they can’t have it.” But, there are obvious lessons from countries around the world who have effectively dealt with price gouging by pharmaceutical companies like Mylan.

Studying Abroad in College with Food Allergies

Studying Abroad is a rite of passage at the University of Denver, where I attend college. There are numerous steps for every student to prepare appropriately for being in another country for a school quarter or semester. For me, adding food allergies into the mix, generates even more necessary preparation!

The University of Denver (where I attend college) is #1 in the nation for study abroad participation rates. Nearly 3 in 4 students at DU study abroad, typically during the fall of their junior year. I kid you not, it seems like the entire junior class disappears during the fall and magically reappears in the winter. DU makes it excessively easy to study abroad: they partnered with over 130 universities and study abroad programs around the world in dozens upon dozens of different countries. With a good GPA (3.0+), a student is eligible for the Cherrington Global Scholars (CGS) program. If you’re eligible for CGS, you pay DU the normal tuition and housing costs for a quarter; in return, they pay for tuition and housing at your host university abroad and reimburse visa and flight costs (among a few other things). It really makes studying abroad superbly easy (plus, they have an easily searchable database of available programs!)

I knew this coming into freshman year and I’ve spent a long time looking at the programs available. I knew a few things:

  • Unless I magically became fluent in another language, I would need to go to an English-speaking country. The language barrier present in trying to explain my food allergies to chefs or other people in a country that does not predominantly speak English would be a challenge that puts my life at risk. That was unacceptable so I knew I would have to look at an English-speaking country in which to study abroad.
  • I could not do a homestay program. This is especially true in non-English speaking countries. In a homestay, I would have little to no control over the food served and thus would be putting myself in danger. I knew a homestay would not work.
  • Most importantly, I would have to find a university or program that had classes that interested me and was in a country that interested me! I wouldn’t want to study abroad in a country that I didn’t like or at a university/program that offered no classes that interested me. That wouldn’t be fun and I want to have fun while studying abroad.

I found a few programs around the world in the UK, Australia, and Ireland that interested me. After narrowing it down, I found an awesome program at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. It’s about 3 hours away from London (by train) in rural England and it’s ranked as a pretty good university!

Lancaster

Because I love to plan ahead, I knew this was the program I wanted to attend before I even started school my freshman year (last year). It had all of the academic courses that I desired, and the housing was on the university campus with access to a kitchen.

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I did a bit more research into the program at Lancaster during the winter & spring of my freshman year and realized that the dormitory system may throw a wrench in my plans. Lancaster is set-up in a college system. Each college has its own dining hall, common areas, and living spaces. The majority of the dorms were set-up in a shared kitchen style, meaning that food would be stored in a shared refrigerator (or two) and everyone would have access to the same pots and pans to cook. That posed a lot of cross-contact issues both in storing and preparing food. I knew that I could probably buy my own pans and pots while I’m there, but I couldn’t mitigate contact between my food and other people’s in the same refrigerator. I made a judgment call and determined I didn’t feel safe with that option.

I found that some colleges have a “private ensuite” option: I have a kitchen and storage and a bed all to myself in my own self-contained suite. This mitigates a lot of the issues that could arise in a shared kitchen facility. I became really excited since I knew that the option was available! I just had to find out if I could secure a “private ensuite” while I study abroad.

I dug into Lancaster’s website and found their disability office contact. I sent an e-mail with my concerns (explaining my food allergies, their severity, the problems with shared kitchen facilities, and the possibility of a private ensuite). I heard back from the office and they said that it was a definite possibility! They remarked that it wasn’t a preferred set-up for a study abroad student simply because it limited my social interactions with other people, but they said my health always trumps those concerns.

I was really excited. I knew that I could study abroad and find safe housing at my host university. I started to research labeling laws for the UK and got some help from the Anaphylaxis Campaign in the UK in identifying the regulations. Since the UK is a member of the European Union (EU), the EU’s regulations apply to all UK manufacturers and producers.

At the University of Denver, the Office of International Education (OIE) supervises all of the study abroad programs. Students get a study abroad advisor depending upon their country and that advisor helps answer any questions regarding studying abroad and helps coordinate all of the application process.

I told my OIE contact person about my food allergies and why homestay/shared kitchens would not work. I wanted to reconfirm through him and his contacts at Lancaster that a private ensuite option would be available for studying abroad. The staff at Lancaster confirmed this! I would need to submit some medical documentation, coordinate with the disability office, and include the request on my study abroad application, but otherwise, everything was a go!

After spending the last few months coordinating with OIE, my academic advisors, and Lancaster University, I decided to add a month of research in Copenhagen Denmark, prior to the start of the school quarter at Lancaster. The research will be within my two majors: economics and public policy.

Copenhagen

Denmark is also, technically, an English-speaking country. 86% of Danes are fluent English speakers, meaning that I won’t have problems assuring my safety in urban areas. I’m still securing a lot of the details around my research since it is a relatively new adventure! I know I’ll be staying in a no-pet and no-smoking Airbnb in Copenhagen for the month, with access to a fully-furnished kitchen. This makes it really easy to make sure I’m safe: I buy all of my own food and cook it myself! I’m still researching labeling laws in Denmark, but given that they are members of the EU as well, I’m sure their regulations are very similar to the UK’s.

I’m so excited to have this opportunity to study abroad, and to do so with my food allergies handled in a way that makes me feel safe!

 

 

 

Traveling Alone with Food Allergies

My Trip to New York!

I recently traveled to New York – alone – for a conference put on by the Roosevelt Institute. As I’ve mentioned before, Roosevelt is a national organization trying to re-engage young people in the policymaking process. They offer a national training each year to leaders of the Institute from around the nation at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Since I started my chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at the University of Denver, I was invited to attend!

They offered to cover my flight out (which is great)! I had a great few e-mails with their operations specialist at Roosevelt and then I called and voiced my concerns about which airlines I could fly. Since I’ve really only had good experience with Southwest, I told them that I would prefer to fly with them. However, there was one main problem: I had to be at Grand Central Station in NYC by about 2:45pm on Thursday, August 6th to catch my train to Poughkeepsie, the nearest train stop in upstate New York. Only one flight from Denver would get me to LaGuardia airport at 1:40pm (landing time). I knew that it would be a tight push to get off the plane, get my luggage, and get to Grand Central in an hour.

Instead, I had Roosevelt book a flight the day before. This allowed stress free traveling and some extra time. Since I didn’t book the trip online, I called in to Southwest customer service and explained my peanut allergy so that it would be noted on my reservation.

The next problem was, where would I stay? My Mom and I had a couple discussions about friends and family we knew in NYC and in Poughkeepsie. We looked up a hotel in Poughkeepsie that was relatively cheap. However, we eventually settled on renting through Airbnb.

If you’ve never used Airbnb, it’s wonderful! It is a website where home owners advertise a room or their entire place for you to stay in, like a hotel. Usually, however, you’ll have access to a full kitchen and all the amenities you may not have in a hotel. Plus, they must mark if smoking and/or pets are allowed. By default, they’re not! This makes the stay even better. I found a very awesome room to rent in Poughkeepsie, NY. I submitted my request to room there for the night and had a great conversation with the owner through Airbnb before I went confirming the non-smoking and the no pets! I didn’t get into my food allergies since I knew I could find safe food. She and her boyfriend lived together; they were both lovely and fully accommodating.

Roosevelt arranged housing for the duration of the conference at a nearby motel called the Golden Manor. I was supposed to have a roommate, but he didn’t show up. Instead, I got to have a room to myself! Now that I had my housing arranged, I had to make sure I had my food all in order.

I coordinated again with the operations specialist at Roosevelt for a menu of the food provided at the conference. (I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.) She got back to me and we realized that, in fact, all but one of the meals would be safe! She double checked with the caterers for ingredients and confirmed that all the meals (except one) would be perfectly safe. The lunch on Friday was Chinese, which was not safe for a multitude of reasons. Instead, they bought me a frozen meal that was perfectly safe (it was a burrito bowl and we both triple checked the ingredients) that I ate instead of the Chinese food.

I also brought extra food for myself (a few homemade granola bars and a couple of bagels) just in case a breakfast or a lunch turned out not to be safe. That way, I always had something to eat!

The trip itself went very smoothly. I arrived in NYC at LaGuardia airport, got my luggage, and hailed an Uber. Uber is another great app that allows you to hail a (more or less) private driver – like a taxi, but usually they’re nicer cars and nicer people – that will take you anywhere. The fee for the ride is all conducted through the app and tips are automatically added. It’s really a seamless experience and I had a great Uber driver on the way into New York City.

The driver dropped me off with my luggage at Grand Central. I forgot how many people lived in New York City! Despite the masses, I found my way to a ticket booth, got my ticket, and got on the train to Poughkeepsie. It was about an hour and 45 minutes long. Once I arrived in Poughkeepsie, I walked the short walk to the Airbnb place and arrived home for the evening! Since the owners were out, they left a hidden key outside and let me know via the Airbnb app. Once they arrived back, we chatted for a while before we both went to bed. I had packed food for the trip and I ate along the way.

Airbnb room

In the morning, I had a granola bar and some coffee. A light breakfast, admittedly, but I kind of spaced on what I would do for that morning. Even with all of my careful planning, I did overlook it, but I was grateful I had brought extra food. After a while, I said goodbye to my wonderful hosts and walked back to the train station. Roosevelt promised to shuttle us from the train station up to Hyde Park, where FDR’s home is.

Roosevelt home

The conference was absolutely amazing. We got a tour of FDR’s home and presidential library (both of which were great!). We also did some great trainings for leadership, strategic planning, policy making, coalition building, and even PR techniques. The food went absolutely perfectly throughout the entire weekend and the staff were so wonderful! Every time I went to get food, the staff was double checking with me about the ingredients of the food and what I could eat. It was just wonderful.

One night, a huge group of us walked 15 minutes up the road to a nearby diner. Just like any restaurant I go to in a foreign place, I played it safe and got some French toast. I double checked with the waiter and he double checked with the chef; everything went great. It was really tasty French toast, too!

After the conference was over, I took a mid-morning train back to NYC from Poughkeepsie on Sunday, August 9th. Even though I had a small suitcase with me, I decided I wanted to look around NYC a little bit, so I ventured my way onto the metro and went down to the World Trade Center. The memorial was absolutely gorgeous and the new One World Trade Center is great! I grabbed Panera for lunch before going to the airport via Uber.

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Panorama 9_11

My safety for the entire trip was assured by planning ahead and making sure everything I was going to eat was safe. I just communicated my concerns and I made sure all of it would work! Overall, it was an amazing experience.

Go with the Flow when You’re Invited to a Business Lunch

Last Friday, I was in Denver meeting with a bunch of non-profits and elected officials for my most recent project: the University of Denver Roosevelt Institute. I’ve made mention of it before, but to recap, it’s an undergraduate non-partisan think tank. We’re a chapter of a national network of campuses that is attempting to re-engaging young people in politics (a tall order, I know).

Anyway, I had a meeting with the Governor’s Senior Advisor, Jamie van-Leeuwen. Jamie advises the Governor of Colorado on social policy and projects (like homelessness) and has a wealth of experience in urban and economic development. He actually started his own international development foundation called the Global Livingston Institute. Needless to say, he’s very intelligent and was great to meet with him. He’s an absolutely whirlwind of energy – I swear this man never sleeps.

I had scheduled a meeting with him at 12, but he was late. He had to finish up a panel discussion with a number of interns in the Governor’s office. Once he arrived, the conversation went something like this:

Jamie: “Hi, Morgan, right?”

Me: “Hi Jamie, yes. Nice to meet you!”

Jamie: “Nice to meet you to! I’m running late, sorry about that.               But I’m actually supposed to be at a lunch – do you mind                             coming along?”

Me: “Uh, sure! I’d love to.”

Given that this was the only opportunity for me to meet with him in a month (he’s in Africa now working on projects related to his foundation), I figured if I had to talk to him on the way to a lunch (and at the lunch), I would. We basically raced to his car and started a short drive over to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the lunch was being held.

As it turns out, a celebration of culture for North & South America (called the Biennial of the Americas) was going on during last week and Jamie served on their board. Since this was the last lunch of the event, he needed to at least make an appearance. While I chatted him up on our car ride over, my mind was already thinking about the food at the event. I figured I would wait until we got there and see what they were serving.

Morgan Post

After a few brief hellos with people Jamie knew, we sat down at a table. There was a salad with spiced chicken on it and a vinaigrette already drizzled over it. Accompanying it was a chocolate cupcake with a nut-looking topping. As I sat down, a server came over and began to pour some water. I turned to her and immediately asked if the salad has any of my allergens. She tells me she will ask the chef and departs.

Jamie and his friend we sat down with immediately turn to me and ask if everything is all right. They were very interested in my safety! I briefly explained that I had severe food allergies; they completely got it. The server returned and told me that everything in the salad was 100% okay. They did not prepare anything with shellfish, fish, or sesame. They aren’t a nut-free kitchen but the salad did not contain nuts. I felt very comfortable with that answer and began to dive into the salad.

While the lunch was going on, there was a really great panel between the Mayors of Denver and Calgary, and a former Mayor of Bogota. They were talking about the importance of local community change. I always think about how important it is for parents of food allergic children to work with their schools and the school board on making sure food allergic children are safe in their schools. That’s a great example of what the Mayors were talking about.

Without even asking, the server later returned and said the cupcake was topped with pumpkin seeds and not nuts, but cautioned me again that they weren’t a nut-free kitchen. I thanked her. As a general rule, I always pass on dessert simply because most desserts have some sort of cross contact issue with nuts, whether or not the topping is pumpkin seeds.

Overall it was a great lunch and Jamie was awesome to talk to. I certainly wasn’t expecting to go to lunch, but everything turned out just fine! I always make sure to ask about the food served, especially at big galas. Who knows what’s in the food!

The Sometimes Incompetence of Waiters

The other weekend I went with a friend and ate at P.F. Chang’s. For those of you who are familiar with the restaurant’s menu, it seems like an odd choice for my food allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish). It’s Asian cuisine and most of the menu items contain some sort of nut or shellfish/fish ingredient. However, I’ve eaten at P.F. Chang’s since I was very young and I’ve always had an excellent experience. I became good friends with the Head Chef and then Assistant Owner of a local P.F. Chang’s in Colorado Springs so I knew what went on in the kitchen and what menu items could be prepared safely.

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My favorite menu item is Crispy Honey Chicken – a very “play it safe” but delicious dish. I’ve eaten it dozens of times and never had any issue.

Anyway, we sat down and the waiter came over and introduced himself. He brought us menus and we ordered water for drinks. I knew what I wanted to order because of my allergies and I knew the dish would be safe. When he came back, I notified him of my food allergies. He told me that P.F. Chang’s has a “matrix” or print out of items on the menu that would be safe for me. He returned quickly with this print out and let us scan through it. I don’t know how this list is compiled, but it is most likely a list of dishes that “may contain” the allergens input. I never received clarity on it.

To my surprise, the Crispy Honey Chicken was not on the list, despite my eating of it a mere month or two before. There were probably only four or five items on the entire list. When the waiter returned, I notified him of the issue and he said he couldn’t do anything about it, nor could he assure that the item was safe. I went ahead with it anyway and ordered Crispy Honey Chicken. I knew it was safe and I had eaten it many times and very recently too. I simply asked him to notify the chef of my food allergies or put it in the system so they could prepare it separately from all the other food – something I know P.F. Chang’s does for food allergic customers.

The waiter said the chef couldn’t do that. They couldn’t guarantee the safety of my food or prepare it in an area away from the regular food. I was surprised and at this point a little scared. What if I couldn’t actually eat my “play it safe” dish? What if P.F. Chang’s had changed? Or, was it just this location that had different practices? I told the waiter to give me a few minutes to think about it.

I was mainly surprised because the Head Chef and Assistant Owner I knew from my youth made it very clear that the kitchen always has a separate area to prepare dishes for food allergic customers. I decided to take matters into my own hands and call the restaurant – from within the restaurant. I asked to speak to a manager. I told the manager: “Hi! I’m looking at coming to your P.F. Chang’s but I have severe food allergies. I’ve eaten at many P.F. Chang’s but I just wanted to check your practices. I know you have a matrix print out, but I was wondering if the chefs prepare food for customers like me in a separate area.” The manager confirmed! She told me that the chefs use separate pans and oils to prepare food for food allergic customers and I only would have to notify my waiter to put it into the system.

I was much happier at this point because I knew I could have a safe meal. I made sure the waiter had put it in the system when the meal was ordered (really, I double checked) so I could have a safe meal. The meal was delicious and safe and nothing went wrong.

Within a couple days, I called the restaurant back and spoke to a manager (a different one) and explained to him what had happened. I also made clear it wasn’t a big deal for me but that it could be an awful experience for a family who had never eaten at P.F. Chang’s. They would either be very scared or they would simply leave. He was deeply apologetic and told me he would have a deep conversation with the waiter about practices. The odd thing (for both the manager and I) was that the waiter was not new and was pretty familiar with the kitchens’ practices for food allergic customers. That aside, the manager sent me a $15 gift card and I’ll definitely be returning for more Crispy Honey Chicken.

I think there are a few important lessons from this adventure:

First, waiters can be wrong. They can also be right! I’ve had many positive experiences with waiters at restaurants, including P.F. Chang’s. Sometimes, however, they can be incompetent and unwilling to ask their manager or the chef. In those cases, you need to take matters into your own hands like I did to make sure you’re getting a safe meal.

Second, play it safe. I knew Crispy Honey Chicken was a safe dish even though the matrix didn’t have it. That’s a risk I took but given that I had eaten it a mere month before, it was a relatively safe risk. If you’re at a restaurant you’ve eaten at before with an incompetent waiter, eat something you’ve had before to play it safe. If you’re at a new restaurant, get something that looks like it is the least risky dish.

Finally, I think it’s very important to be patient. I could’ve lost it and gone after the waiter but I didn’t. Working it out and getting as much information is super important to understanding the situation at hand. Getting in touch with a superior (like a manager) also helps. Being patient makes sure that you are careful and deliberate in your decisions.

Overall, it wasn’t the best experience. I certainly had moments where I was unsure or scared that the food was not going to be safe but I had faith in the chefs in the back to keep it safe. Everything turned out well – and hey! I have a gift card of $15. Always good.

Freshman Year at College with Food Allergies

I cannot believe I have finished my first year of college at the University of Denver (DU). It is CRAZY!

Spring Conference

The main event in Spring Quarter was flying out to Los Angeles to attend a conference at the University of Southern California. I founded a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at DU. Roosevelt is a non-partisan, non-profit, undergraduate think tank (how’s that for a mouthful) that seeks to empower young people in political change ranging from K-12 reform to international development, economic justice to public health issues (like food allergies!). The Western Region held an annual conference at USC that I was invited to since I had recently started up the chapter at DU. They were very understanding of my food allergies and expressed an interest in accommodating them.

Everything didn’t work out how I had planned. I had initially understood sandwiches were going to served for the mid-conference lunch but that was soon changed to Indian food. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to how to work around Indian food. I decided to bring my own bagels and snacks in my suitcase for a safe alternative for food. Thankfully, the breakfast they provided was safe. I knew I had to work around it since it was a last minute change, and I didn’t throw up a fuss. Since I could bring my own food (or heck, even order Jimmy John’s to deliver once I was there), it was not a problem.

For dinner, I ate at In-n-Out Burger. I’ve had In-N-Out before on a trip my senior year and I knew it was safe. I double checked once I was there and they assured me nothing contained sesame. It was absolutely delicious!

Just to reinforce something, this was the first time I had flown alone – no friends, no family, nobody with me besides, well, me! It was a big leap forward. However, I flew Southwest Airlines so I knew no problems would arise. You can indicate (like I did) a “peanut dust allergy” when ordering tickets and get two things: a preboard slip and a PDA slip. Preboarding allowed me to enter first and clean off my seat from any previous flight to prevent contact with allergens. The PDA slip I gave to the flight attendant and because of it, they do not serve peanuts on the flight. Overall, the conference was a safe and successful trip!

Morgan & Thomas June 2015

My Roommate

I have to say: the reason my first year at college was successful was because of my roommate, Thomas.

Thomas comes from the humble little town of Buena Vista, CO and he is one of the best people I know. He wouldn’t eat my allergens in the dorm room, he’d wash his hands if necessary, be considerate of the restaurants we’re eating at, watch out for my health, and simply would be a good guy. Thomas was truly an amazing roommate. We were randomly assigned through the housing system and I have to say I was very fortunate to be assigned to room with him. I can’t offer enough praise for having such an awesome guy.

I trained Thomas about allergic reactions and what symptoms to look for, and how to administer my EpiPen. He’d even read labels on things! I hope every food allergic child has such an awesome experience.

Certainly, Thomas was aware of my food allergies because I told him – an essential step. When your food allergic child(ren) go to college, tell them this: do not keep them hidden from the person/people you’re living with! I set out the standards of asking him not to eat things I was allergic to in the room and everything worked out amazingly.

Wicked

To celebrate the end of the quarter, I went and saw Wicked, the famous Broadway musical. I have seen it before and I absolutely love the play. Very catchy show tunes – they’re still stuck in my head almost a week later!

The program at DU that helped sponsor this also paid for a pre-show dinner at a local French restaurant called Bistro Vendome. They offered a choice of two appetizers, four entree dishes, and two desserts since we had such a big group (over 30 people!). I told the waitress about my food allergies when I ordered the dishes I wanted and told her also about cross contact issues. She was very nice and helpful and triple checked all the dishes with the chef to make sure they were safe! It was a wonderful and delicious (and free!) dinner.

On Campus Food

The last quick note I’d like to make is that I still had no issue with the food on campus. The local dining hall actually had a change in staff so there was a new head chef! I made sure to introduce myself but since all the food has ingredients clearly labeled on television screens, I knew there wouldn’t be an issue.

Have a wonderful summer!

Learning More at College by Morgan Smith

The second quarter of the year has been fantastic!

Trip to Buena Vista, Colorado

About three weeks into Winter Quarter, my roommate (Thomas), two friends (Bryce & Kieran), and I decided to go down to Thomas’ house in Buena Vista for the weekend. We just wanted a weekend away from college and to be able to relax; what a wonderful time it was! I drove us down Friday evening and we stopped by Beau Jo’s pizza, a famous Colorado-based restaurant. I had absolutely no issues with their pizza and I did double check with the waiter and the chef if it was. We arrived late Friday night at Thomas’ house.

The entire weekend (Friday through Monday morning) was mainly comprised of lounging around and watching movies, but Bryce & I did utilize the kitchen a lot. She and I made breakfast both days and she was very mindful of my allergies. We didn’t make anything I couldn’t eat and, despite her being a vegetarian, the majority of her nut-filled snacks were eaten on the road and she made sure to wash her hands afterward.

Thomas has a dog, Lucy; however, I had absolutely no issues during that weekend with Lucy! It was a huge improvement from a few years ago before I got allergy shots. I didn’t have any tightness in my chest or coughing and I definitely didn’t have an allergic reaction.

We drove down to Salida, CO on Saturday and hung around for a few hours meandering through the streets after having lunch at a local restaurant. The restaurant was very accommodating. The cooks typically pre-prepare their meat at the beginning of the day; because of this, the waitress was concerned that many of the meats could have cross-contaminated with fish and shellfish. When this concern was expressed to the chefs, they made an entire new section of meat just for me so I could have a safe meal! (I was having spicy chicken quesadillas)

On Sunday, Bryce and I coordinated the final dinner, but everyone helped out making an Italian feast comprised of garlic bread, olive oil asparagus, brown butter pasta, and a safe dessert of creme brulee (which I realize is not Italian). The group shopped together and I made sure everything was safe.

On our way back to Denver, we stopped by my parent’s house in Colorado Springs and grabbed lunch, which is always safe!

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Winter Quarter Activities

This quarter has been quite busy; although I took one less class than I did in the fall, I filled my spare time with lots of activities.

I arranged an internship at the Colorado State Capitol, working for State Representative Pete Lee who represents downtown Colorado Springs. Rep. Lee and I had met at a previous dinner hosted by a mutual friend, and he had mentioned that I could intern for him during the legislative session! Since Colorado’s legislative session runs for only 5 months, it would be a perfect internship during the Winter & Spring quarters.

There isn’t any food involved, thankfully. The only food in Rep. Lee’s office is in a shared refrigerator, and it is composed of string cheese and Frappucinos. Since I typically intern in the mid-afternoon, I usually don’t bring food and I leave before I need to eat dinner. Even if there was an issue, I know the staff in the office would be superbly accommodating.

I’m also actively following HB 15-1232 in the CO State Legislature. The bill allows organizations other than schools to acquire and stock epinephrine auto-injectors. A food allergic child who is involved with such an organization must get a doctor to sign-off on a prescription allowing the stock epinephrine. It also requires those organizations to train its employees on the use of an epinephrine auto-injector. It’s exciting! It got through the House Health & Human Services committee and is now in House Appropriations for amendment-related information. It’ll be interesting to see if it passes or not!

Near the end of the quarter, I also helped out at the Boettcher Foundation’s annual Finalist interviews. The Boettcher Foundation is a Colorado-based non-profit that awards full-ride scholarships at any Colorado university to a select group of students who show strength in academics, leadership, service, and character. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Boettcher Scholarship last year and I decided to volunteer my time this year!

The Foundation interviews 100 Finalists and must select 40 who receive the scholarship. Needless to say, it’s a rather stressful time for all of the Finalists. I volunteered to be a helper in the waiting area to calm down the nerves and just talk with all of the Finalists as they await to be interviewed.

I worked for almost 5 hours with all of the Finalists, from a little before noon until about 4:30. The Foundation provided lunch to all of the volunteers. The week before, I e-mailed the coordinator of the day and I asked her what food was going to be served. Stephanie, the coordinator, is already aware of my food allergies and is absolutely wonderful! The catering company made an entirely separate lunch that was safe for me and contained all kinds of safe food, like a salad, chips, and a sandwich with safe bread. Stephanie let me know this was happening beforehand and the moment I walked in the door she told me exactly where to find my lunch.

Food at the University of Denver

Winter Quarter was a host to a couple of different events.

To start off, the daily meals have been absolutely wonderful and stress-free. The dining halls always have safe options for breakfast and lunch and I can always find something tasty, somewhat healthy, and safe to eat. The typical breakfast includes fruit, hashbrowns, and sausage (with pancakes somedays).

There are a few exceptions to this. One night, it was Chinese New Year and the dining hall did decide to get a themed dinner going! Unfortunately, all the dishes either contained or cross-contaminated with dishes that contained one of my allergies (nuts and shellfish were the typical ingredients). I walked a minute north on campus to the other dining hall that provides a food court style of serving. They have an entirely safe Mexican option that is reminiscent of Chipotle. I got a safe quesadilla for that night and everything was good. I don’t know if I felt left out, but it certainly was unfortunate that I couldn’t eat with my friends for that night simply because of the options available.

Thankfully, DU is amazing in all other aspects. They have the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management that runs all of their social events, especially the dinners. For the entire year (there was an opening dinner with the Chancellor at the beginning of the year and a couple of interspersed events I got into that also provided dinner), they have been absolutely accommodating. When I RSVP for the event, I include information about my food allergies and I ask what they can do about it. Every time, they respond that “everything is handled!” and guaranteed, it is. For example, they handmade a salad for me so that it didn’t contain nuts (like the rest of them did).

Final Notes

Our Chancellor has office hours once a month and last month I stopped by to introduce myself and ask a couple of questions. Before I left, I mentioned to her about how great DU is with food allergies. She agreed! She comes from two east coast private universities and they did not accommodate food allergies well.

I’m off to another 10 weeks of school! Hopefully, nothing too exciting happens – food wise!

Best wishes,

Morgan

The First Quarter of College by Morgan Smith

The first quarter of college was exhilarating!

The University of Denver (DU) runs on a quarter system: there are three 10-week quarters during the regular school year plus an optional summer quarter. I went up to school the last day of August for a week-long orientation at DU before classes began and I arrived home the week before Thanksgiving after successfully completing all my finals.

Before arriving at the school, we met with dining services to discuss food options (my mom wrote an entire blog post here about that visit). DU uses Sodexo as their food provider for their three different dining halls, convenience stores, and various cafes around the campus. In the past, I haven’t had extraordinary success with Sodexo; however, at DU, they are simply the best. When we originally visited, the executive chef at the local dining hall – Nelson Hall – had agreed that I could ask him anything about any of the food served, what it contained, and how it was prepared if I didn’t feel safe eating it. Needless to say, he and I have become really good friends. The dining hall has lots of good options for all meals: fruits & veggies are always available and safe flatbread/pizza is available for lunch & dinner. All the chefs are trained by the university on how to use an Epi-Pen as an extra precaution just in case something occurs.

A dining hall, only a little farther north on campus, has a food court-style service: there is a Greek option, an American option, a Mexican option, and an Asian option. The nice thing about this dining hall is that the menu never changes: they always offer the same food no matter when you arrive. More importantly, the Mexican option is 100% safe (after discussions with the executive chef at that dining hall) and the Greek option is safe as long as I don’t eat the pita bread. They also have “to-go” boxes so I can bring the food back to my dorm if I don’t want to eat it there.

Honestly, the food is working out superbly. I typically go grab the Mexican option for lunch in between classes and select one of the safe options at Nelson for breakfast and dinner. I always have friends around when I eat, which is great.

Classes are pretty difficult overall. I only had one 8am class this quarter and there was a surprising lack of food from students in the class. I decided not to tell any of my professors about my food allergies since I didn’t feel it was pertinent to my success as a student. Given that college is very individualistic, the expectation would be for me, and not for the professor, to ask someone not to eat a PB&J next to me. There was never any issue in any of the classrooms related to food. I kept a wary eye out in that 8am class just in case but the only potential “issue” I ever encountered was someone eating a Snickers on the other side of the classroom. I certainly was not worried.

I live on the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) floor at DU. PLP is a leadership program at DU that allows a student to obtain a minor in leadership studies. There are a lot of programs like this at different colleges around the nation; however, PLP is unique given that the students of the program live together on a floor in a dorm. Each year, PLP takes 66 new students and these 66 live together on the floor. They’re very driven, responsible, and intelligent students and it’s a blast to live with them! Our Residential Assistants (RAs) are older PLPers who know what the first year is like.

My roommate is phenomenal. He’s so understanding and we established from the get-go rules about food in the dorm: none of my food allergens in the room and if he eats anything that I would be allergic to, he just washes his hands. We have a refrigerator, but typically it’s stocked with caffeinated drinks, not food. We have pretty similar sleep schedules and personalities, so we get along super well. I feel super lucky to have such a good friend as a roommate (but honestly, I get along with everyone in PLP really well).

I applied before the beginning of the school year for an air conditioning unit that filters pollens out of the air to control my asthma; the university approved my accommodation. My roommate was definitely grateful for some cold air given we have windows that face the sun the majority of the day. This has helped immensely and I haven’t had any breathing problems.

I still carry two Epi-Pens and Benadryl in a Garmin case in my right pocket at all times. This is true when I eat, when I go to class, when I walk around the dorm, or really anytime I’m not sleeping. I also have a massive container under my bed with extra medication: Epi-Pens, albuterol, Pulmicort, Nasacort, etc. My roommate has a very similar tub under his. We constantly joke that we could run an underground pharmacy out of our dorm room if we wanted to.

As with any new living situations come new challenges: surprisingly, none of it involved my food allergies or asthma. My first quarter was plagued with sickness, instead.

The first week of class (of all weeks) I got superbly sick that I actually had to go home Wednesday through the weekend to recover. I had a nice combination of headaches, nausea, a fever, and exhaustion for quite a few days; while antibiotics knocked out the majority of my symptoms, I found out (through blood work) that I had an early infection of mono. Thankfully, I didn’t have any continuing symptoms.

I got a head cold halfway through the quarter and a stomach bug near the end of the quarter, and some close friends in PLP were happy to help supply (safe) chicken noodle soup to help me out. I made it through finals week and went home the week before Thanksgiving – the end of the 1st quarter.

The day before Thanksgiving, I woke up with swollen lymph nodes and was pretty tired. Through the weekend, I developed a fever, a superbly sore throat, and once again, I became absolutely exhausted. This time, it was a full blown “re-activated” infection of mono. I’m happily recovering after a week of antibiotics to combat a secondary infection of tonsillitis with plenty of rest, fluids, and reading. Thankfully, I’m home until the New Year so I have plenty of time to recuperate my health and prepare myself for the next quarter.

Certainly, I had more than a couple 2:30am mornings this quarter working on school or hanging out with friends. I think I might be limiting these next quarter to make sure my immune system can cope with everything.

If I had any one suggestion for college, it’s to talk to people. They are your best resources for your health, happiness, and sanity in school. When you’re sick, they can bring you fantastic chicken noodle soup. When you’re healthy, they can be excellent resources for studying, motivation, and even for a break every once in a while.

Overall, my first quarter was absolutely fantastic. College is a blast and I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful people at DU that make it a safe opportunity.

Happy Holidays and I wish you the best for 2015!

Nationals Trip for Speech & Debate

My last high school-related adventure involved traveling to Kansas City for the National Speech & Debate Tournament, an event I had qualified to attend earlier this year.

Before we left, I gave a health care plan to my Speech & Debate coach that explains procedure for an anaphylactic reaction, my allergies, and has an array of information on who to contact. I trained my friends/teammates on EpiPens as well.

We left Sunday morning from Denver International Airport, flying Frontier to Kansas City. Frontier does serve food, but you have to pay for it (i.e. there are no complimentary drinks or food for most passengers). I asked the stewardess the moment I got on the plane if they served peanuts, and she replied, “You can certainly buy them.” I quickly assured her I wasn’t going to buy them due to a peanut allergy. Since the flying arrangements for this trip were made by the school, all six of us traveling to Kansas City got to sit together. This was important since peanuts could still be served on the flight to someone who was interested in buying them; that issue was mitigated since I was sitting with my friends.

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After arriving to the hotel, it was about 1:00pm (an hour ahead from Denver), and we were pretty hungry, so we walked across the street to Panera Bread. Panera is notable for its homemade bread that is mostly all cooked together. I talked with the manager about some safe options (it differs by store on how they cook their bread), and settled on a simple grilled cheese for lunch. I had a salad at Panera for dinner, probably the far safer option due to the possibility of cross contamination. Weighing the information given though, I decided that the grilled cheese was safe since it was not cooked with nut breads and they have rigorous cleaning procedures.

Speech & Debate tournaments occur in high schools, middle schools, and sometimes (at Nationals) in elementary schools. In Overland Park, Kansas (where we were), they had dozens of different schools for the thousands of competitors, each dedicated to a specific event (like solo debate or humorous interpretation). We had our coach and two parents joining us with rented cars so they could go and buy safe food for us.

Breakfast was served at the hotel and there was a McDonalds across the parking lot for variety. I found out I could eat McDonald’s breakfast items after my California trip (read about it here). Lunch and dinner varied by days and locations (if we were at a different high school, we might eat something different).

To be honest, each day was about 17 hours (from 5:30am to 10:30pm), so I don’t remember exactly which days I ate what. Here’s a list of restaurants I did eat at:

  • Chipotle – this was for dinner (I believe) Tuesday evening. It’s a safe option for me and it’s a chain restaurant, meaning most (if not all) of its locations serve the same thing.
  • Applebee’s – another safe chain restaurant that was dinner the third night there.
  • Jimmy John’s – an easy, safe option for lunch sandwiches. The team got Chick-Fil-A, but my coach made sure that I got a safe option for food, and made arrangements for Jimmy John’s (she’s the best coach, by the way).
  • Potbelly Sandwiches – another option for lunch sandwiches. I hadn’t had Potbelly’s before, but I checked their website and called them up and talked with their manager about breads, sesame, and nuts. Everything was safe (besides their cookies) and it worked out great!
  • Kolache Factory – Kolaches are…dough balls that have filling like cheese & sausage, or pepperoni & mushrooms. Once again, I hadn’t had Kolache’s before, but I called ahead and talked with the owner about their procedures. The breads that do contain nuts are cooked entirely separate from the regular dough (at least at this location). I have to say, that was an AMAZING lunch – they were so good (and safe!)
  • El Fogon – a local Mexican cuisine restaurant we went to for lunch. Just like every other restaurant I hadn’t eaten at before, I called ahead. Notably, Mexican food is mainly safe, but various styles can include sesame and nuts. El Fogon did not use either in any dish or topping or side, which was great news! Even better, the food was absolutely delicious (I got a steak quesadilla)
  • Cinetopia’s Food Service – the last night we were in Kansas City, we went and saw a movie at the local movie theater. Unlike most, they have these “family rooms” with couches and reclining seats instead of the regular airpline-style seating. You also get to order food from their menu. I checked with the staff about their options and settled on another Mexican-style evening with nachos and a quesadilla.
  • Jack Stack BBQ – the crown jewel of our food adventures, Jack Stack has some of the best BBQ in Kansas City (if not the country). Barbecue sauce can be especially dangerous since some restaurants use peanut butter as a thickener and/or nuts as a spice. Jack Stack uses neither in their homemade, exquisite BBQ sauce. I have to admit, that was the best food we had all week!

Story of the Week: Due to its fame, Jack Stack’s is always pretty busy. Instead of dining in, we went over to their takeout side of the restaurant. While waiting for our food to be ready, we got in a nice conversation with a man who was picking up his own BBQ meal. Very genuine guy, who was interested in Speech & Debate and our interests. Right before leaving, he actually gave our coach $200 to spend on dinner for another night!! (We used it at the Cinetopia because, while their tickets aren’t that much more than normal, their food is abhorrently expensive). It was a very kind gesture.

This was the longest trip that I’ve been through where we haven’t brought/planned food. I had combined a list of possibly safe restaurants before the trip began and sent it to my coach (it included Jimmy John’s, Jack Stack’s, Chipotle, and Applebee’s). That helped dictate a few choices, but we also got recommendations from the locals (for El Fogon and the Kolache Factory, for instance).

Here’s a few tips on dealing with new restaurants:

  1. Always talk to someone in charge. Servers are knowledgeable about the menu, not how the food is prepared. Find a manager or the owner or the chef and talk to them about food preparation and the process of cooking food. Also talk with them about ingredients.
  2. Try and eat at “safe-cuisine” restaurants. Typically, Mexican cuisine is safer than, say, Asian cuisine for me (not only due to the use of shellfish & fish in Asian cuisine, but nuts as well). I’d automatically feel safer at a Mexican-style restaurant than an Asian-style restaurant.
  3. Call ahead, if possible. Don’t waste your time at restaurants that aren’t safe. Call ahead and talk to someone in charge about food. If it turns out the restaurant is not safe, you didn’t waste your time and you can find another safe option.
  4. There is always a risk. It’s really unavoidable – there is always a risk involved in eating new food. I ate at more new restaurants during Nationals than I had in the past 5 years combined! However, I felt safe and comfortable doing so.
  5. The two-minute rule. That being said, I’m still cautious! This is a personal thing that I do: when I try food at a new restaurant, I take a small bite and wait two minutes before eating anything more. From my previous experience with anaphylaxis, my first symptoms occurred within the first two minutes after eating fish. I cautiously eat a second bite after the first two minutes and wait a little while longer. If nothing happens, I eat my meal entirely. If something does happen, I would immediately tell someone about it.

Nationals was one of the best experiences I have had – not only due to the intelligent and humorous people at the event, but also the safe food that was readily available. I also broke to Top 80 at Nationals in Lincoln-Douglas debate, a solo debate centered around values & ethics.

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If you would like to view the National Tournament Highlight Video (published by the National Speech & Debate Association), click here. I make a cameo appearance at :49 (I’m in the background looking up. The camera isn’t focused on me). Plus, there’s a great music video at the end of it.

Morgan’s Senior Class California Trip Updates – Saturday and Sunday

Hello everyone! I decided to update all of you with just one post covering both days given that a good portion of one was in Disneyland.

Saturday

There is a McDonalds in the vicinity of the hotel, which makes getting breakfast easy. When planning, I was very surprised to find out that none of the foods that McDonalds serves at breakfast contain nuts (or any of my allergies).

I simply got pancakes and sausage and while it may not have been the most healthy breakfast, it certainly tasted good!!

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After breakfast, my whole group went out to the President Nixon Library and Museum. It was a phenomenal experience!!

I got to see the old Marine/Army 1 (depending on the branch of the pilot) that President Nixon departed from his presidency in. I also had the chance to learn all about President Nixon’s life and successes. No food was allowed in the museum, so I didn’t have any problems.

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After the Nixon museum, our group went to Disneyland! We were there from 1pm until midnight. I can say that I haven’t had that much fun in a very long time.

Food at Disney wasn’t hard at all. I stopped by and had some food at a Sandwich joint for lunch and balanced out some safe BBQ for dinner. I had simply asked about the sauce they use for their BBQ – they graciously provided ingredients for all of it. It was absolutely delicious!

Food is always a big issue when you’re at a theme park. But, what about carrying around your cell phone and EpiPens? If there is ever a problem, people need to be notified. I carried my EpiPens, cell phone, and wallet on me at all times. I didn’t leave them in a bag or put them in a locker.

Splash Mountain certainly made me a little wet, but my cell phone was fine and my EpiPens were stored in a Garmin case and remained in their waterproof case, as always.

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I was thoroughly exhausted by midnight. It was a fun day – I even got to see the whole castle lit up!

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Sunday

I once again had breakfast (and included a delicious and completely  unhealthy cinnamon melt) at McDonalds.

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We visited the Museum of Tolerance. No pictures were allowed, so I can’t document anything from the museum, but I can say it was one of the best museums I have ever visited. It was enlightening and heavy, examining the consequences of our words and propaganda against another group of people. It specifically looked at the Holocaust, and I nearly came out in tears from one of the gas chambers.

After the Museum of Tolerance, we went to In-N-Out burger.

I have never eaten such a good burger. And fries. And milkshake. It was amazing fast food. Fast food burger joints are nefarious for their use of sesame seeds on buns. I had called ahead to the restaurant chain to make sure they didn’t use sesame on their buns – they didn’t. Their fries are also not cooked in peanut or sesame oil – another wonderful and tasty victory!

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After In-N-Out, we visited President Reagan’s library and museum. That was an another awesome experience! We got to revisit Reagan’s life and successes along with the old Air Force One. That took the rest of the afternoon.

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For dinner, we got to eat at restaurants in the vicinity of our hotel. I had checked before the trip, and there was an IHOP just down the block. IHOP is what I call a “pocket” restaurant – it’s always safe and I can just pull it out of my pocket as a safe backup.

I’ll post a final update tomorrow after my flight home! I’ll leave you with this awesome California sunset taken from President Reagan’s library.

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To read Morgan’s other post about his Senior Class Trip on Friday, click here.

Senior Class California Trip – Morgan’s Update for Friday

Hello everyone! I figured I would do a few updates throughout the trip just to keep all of you apprised with the day to day happenings.

With traveling, I believe planning is one of the most important things you can do. Before leaving, I charted out all the locations my group was going to and located safe places to eat. The teacher in charge is super detail oriented, so the itinerary we received was very detailed with times and locations. After calling the different places, including In-n-Out Burger, Rainforest Cafe, and a local pizzeria, I had my entire menu for the trip planned! As a note, the Rainforest cafe (and two other meals) take place inside Disneyland. Disney is renown for their ability to take care of food allergic children.

I also created a list of everything I would need to bring, including medications. This way, I make sure I have everything I’ll need (mind you, this trip is only 4 days so it wasn’t an extensive list).

For TSA, I removed ALL the liquid medications (like eye drops and nasal spray) and put them in the bag with my other liquids. This ensures I won’t hold up the line. I also always wear my MedicAlert bracelet, but that’s never been a problem with metal detectors. It never sets it off. I do remove my EpiPens in my pocket and set them in the bin to have them scanned.

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Above is my boarding pass. When I fly Southwest, I typically have “PDA” printed on my boarding pass, which means “Peanut Dust Allergy.” This means that I can preboard the plane and wipe down the surrounding areas. (It also means I get to choose the best seats!) Thankfully, United doesn’t serve peanuts on their flights, so it wasn’t a problem for this trip.

I did bring a few snacks for the plane ride – NutriGrain bars, apple slices, and banana bread from home. If I were thirsty, I would have bought a soda near the gate for the flight.

The flight went excellently. There were no problems and I sat among friends so no one ate nuts.

After the flight, we immediately went to the beach! It was a great time. For lunch, I had pizza from a local pizzeria that I had checked with beforehand. It was delicious! I then went and played at the beach with friends for a few hours. There was a shellfish shop or two along the beach, but obviously I didn’t eat at them (nor my friends)!

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We also met a seal (pictured above).

After the beach, we returned to the hotel to change and then went to dinner at Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney. I had called ahead and checked their menu to make sure there was a possibility for safe food.

When I arrived at Rainforest Cafe, I let the server know I had severe allergies right after I ordered my drink. She was super kind and immediately brought out the kitchen manager – a sort of combination between chef and manager. He asked what my food allergies were, took them down, wrote down my meal, and then specially prepared it (he even served it to me)!

The steak fajitas were delicious.

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It was a wonderful Friday!! I’ll keep you updated about Saturday with journeys including Disneyland!!

To read Morgan’s post about his Senior Class Trip for the rest of the trip, click here.