Our trip to paradise was more than a vacation. It was an experience of a lifetime that has given us memories to cherish forever. The trip was a gift to Britney from her Grandpa and Grandma Turner. They have watched her fight for her life for the last eight years and want to make sure she also experiences the joys of life. What better place than Hawaii?!

Britney has MSUD and has been hospitalized several times since she was born. Last year she was in a coma three times. It has been a tough battle for her, but she has a strong will and refuses to give up. That is why her grandparents chose Hawaii, the most beautiful place on earth.

Originally Grandpa and Grandma were going to take her, but circumstances did not allow Grandpa to go, so I went in his place. It was a trip for us girls - Grandma, Mom, Britney and 2 year old Amanda. We had a blast!

Preparing for the trip was quite a bit of work, but it was well worth the effort. Grandma made all of the phone calls to plan the trip which included making arrangements with the airlines for a vegetarian meal for Britney. The airlines idea of a vegetarian meal was pathetic. We were prepared, as most of us are, with plenty of just in case food.

I pre-measured Britney's formula and packed it in zipper bags. We split the bags between our two carry-on bags - boy were they heavy! We were concerned that security would give us a problem at the airport when they X-rayed our bags and discovered all those bags of white powder, but they didn't. The guard insisted on running a special paper over the bags, then sent us on our way.

We needed to know where the hospitals were and what doctors to contact if Britney were to become ill. The Pediatric Neurology Clinic staff at Ann Arbor, Michigan gladly provided us with all of the information we needed. Dr. Allen provided a letter with detailed instructions for the doctors in case of an emergency. I don't know what I would do without the Clinic staff. They are fantastic people who go beyond the call of duty and then some.

When we stepped off the plane on Oahu, we were greeted with beautiful, fragrant leis. This was a wonderful beginning to a twelve-day adventure that would take us to four of the Hawaiian Islands.

Our first three days were spent on Oahu. The hotel we stayed in was on Waikiki Beach. Our first outing was to the Polynesian Cultural Center which is on the North Shore, as they call it. The drive there was incredible. The road twisted and turned along the shoreline which has the most beautiful white sand beaches and the most brilliant turquoise water in the world. The Cultural Center was divided into areas depicting the different areas of Polynesia with demonstrations of activity indigenous to that culture. In the afternoon they have a parade of boats carrying singers and dancers representing different Polynesian tribes.

Britney was completely mesmerized by all of it. In the evening they have a Luau with several ceremonies and more singing and dancing throughout dinner. We informed our waitress that this was a special trip for Britney. She, in turn, told the entertainers who dedicated a song and hula about children to Britney. We cried through the whole thing. The next day we went to Pearl Harbor. That was definitely an experience. To stand over the spot where 1,000 men lost their lives for our country was heart wrenching. It's a place no one should miss if they go to Oahu.

The next island we visited was Kauai, the flower island. How beautiful. We visited Fern Grotto and Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Hawaii). The views were breathtaking. An interesting phenomenon on Kauai is that several years ago they experienced a hurricane that displaced all of the island's domestic chickens. The island now has wild chickens everywhere which just fascinated both girls.

Every evening our hotel had a traditional Hawaiian sunset ceremony with singers and hula dancers. Grandma had bought the girls grass skirts, and they decided to wear them to the ceremony one evening. One of the hotel employees saw the girls and brought them each a gorgeous fresh lei. When the singing and dancing began, Britney and Amanda got up and did the hula (pictured) along with the dancers. They received a great round of applause from the audience.

We next moved on to Maui. Our first stop was the Maui Ocean Center which has many different types of marine life as well as a huge glass area that is built out into the ocean where the girls loved watching the fish swim around us. The following morning Grandma and Britney went on a submarine trip. The submarine is launched from a platform a mile from shore, so they had to take a boat to the area. The captain sought Britney out and had her sit in his seat and drive the boat on the open ocean. She thought this was just great.

The next day, we went on a snorkel trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation. Several spinner dolphins swam around the boat jumping out of the water and spinning around. The marine biologists on board made Britney an Honorary Marine Biologist and had her help them set up things for the snorkel, which she and I did together. What a great experience. I had no idea how colorful the fish and coral are.

We left Maui and flew to our final island, Hawaii, the Big Island. This was to be the climax of our trip. The main reason we were in Hawaii was so that Britney could swim with the dolphins. The Hilton Waikoloa houses Dolphin Quest which is a research habitat to save the dolphins. Grandma had made prior arrangements, and we took an excited Britney down to the area for her dolphin swim. A marine biologist supervises the swim and gives instructions about what to expect and what to do. He handed out pieces of fish and had the children feed them to the dolphin. Britney went out into the water and splashed the dolphin who splashed her back. Then she kissed the dolphin (pictured) and rubbed his belly. The biologist gave Britney another piece of fish and a big red ball. He told her to throw the ball to the dolphin and that the dolphin would throw it back to her. Then she was to feed the piece of fish to the dolphin, but if she did not catch the ball, she was going to have to eat the fish piece herself. She threw the ball, the dolphin threw it back, and she dropped it. The biologist told Britney she had to eat the fish. She looked at him, then at us, and replied, I'm not allowed to eat fish.

We had been laughing and crying through the whole experience, but now we didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The biologist told her that was okay, he was only kidding. She continued to play with the dolphin, swimming, splashing and having a great time. The whole experience was being professionally photographed and videotaped so we will have it forever.

The next day, we boarded a helicopter to fly over an active volcano and see the destruction it has caused. Most of what is visible is the black, dried lava top crust. The flowing lava is not usually visible, but we were lucky enough to witness a sky light that had opened, and to see the red/yellow lava as it flowed to the ocean enlarging the island by inches every day. As the helicopter pilot told us, You are witnessing the newest land on earth. The helicopter ride was our last great adventure in Hawaii.

As we boarded our plane for home, we bid a fond Aloha to Hawaii. What a wonderful experience for all of us, but especially so for Britney. We had no need for doctors, but a great need for tissues to dry our tears as we watched her laugh and sing and dance. We encountered some pretty wonderful people who went well out of their way to make sure Britney had an enchanting trip to paradise.


The MSUD Family Support Group is currently funding several research projects and we are proactively looking for researchers interested in developing new treatments or finding a cure for MSUD. Significant funding is necessary if we are to accomplish this goal.
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