Christine Ha lost her vision several years ago to a rare autoimmune disease called neuromyelitis optica — but that didn’t stop her from winning season 3 of FOX’s cooking competition show “MasterChef.” She shared her experience with the condition and how she overcame its challenges in an “Ask Me Anything” Reddit discussion yesterday.
In 2003, Ha was diagnosed with NMO, which causes optic neuritis — inflammation that results in eye pain and vision loss — and transverse myelitis, which results in weakness, numbness and sometimes paralysis of the arms and legs. In people with NMO, the immune system attacks and destroys myelin — the fatty sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and helps nerve signals move from cell to cell — in the optic nerves and spinal cord. There currently is no cure.
After several bouts of optic neuritis, Ha’s vision deteriorated, and she compares the quality of her current vision with “shadows and extreme blurriness, like I’m eternally walking through a cloud. Or imagine a mirror foggy with steam right after a hot shower — that’s my world.”
The casting department of “MasterChef” actually contacted Ha after stumbling upon her blog, TheBlindCook.com, in which she writes about her experiences with food and cooking. After reading her bio, they invited her to an open casting call and were impressed enough to select her as a contestant for the show. Her culinary brilliance blew away the show’s panel of celebrity judges — Gordon Ramsey, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot — and she was crowned winner of the season 3 competition.
In yesterday’s Reddit discussion, she candidly answered questions about everything from what it’s like being blind to how her vision loss actually helped make her the MasterChef she is today:
Ha’s cookbook, “Recipes From My Home Kitchen,” comes out May 14. You can pre-order it here.
Follow Ha at Facebook.com/MC3Christine or on Twitter through @ChristineHHa, @theblindcook and @MC3Christine.
To learn more about NMO, click here.