Imagine having to prepare five-star dishes on national television for some of the world's best chefs – without seeing any of the food or cooking utensils.
Despite her severe vision impairment, that’s exactly what Christine Ha has been doing on Fox's hit cooking show MasterChef.
Ha suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called neuromyelitis optica (NMO) that affects the optic nerve and the spinal cord through the central nervous system.
Ha was diagnosed in 2004 and gradually started losing her vision. Ha is not completely blind, but describes her vision as looking at a very foggy mirror after a hot shower.
“Over the years my optic nerves had become inflamed and over time that sort of atrophied my optic nerve,” she said. “So that’s how I lost my vision.”
There was a period of time when doctors we unable to diagnose Ha. Some thought she may have multiple sclerosis, others lupus.
“When I was diagnosed officially and correctly it was actually a relief,” she said.
After her diagnosis, Ha said she was devastated and feared she would have to give up her love of cooking. She felt like she had to start over with her cooking skills, and even something as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich seemed nearly impossible.
“Once I sort of accepted everything and my condition, that’s when I was able to focus and get back into the kitchen,” she said.
Ha is the first blind contestant to ever appear on a cooking show and she beat 500,000 other applicants. She said making the decision to try out for MasterChef was not a difficult one.
“I am the type of person who always welcomes a challenge,” Ha said, “and I always like to push myself to see how far I can go.”
Although her blindness is a huge disadvantage in many ways on MasterChef, Ha said it can also be an advantage in some ways. By becoming more in tune with her other senses, Ha said she feels she can better focus on cooking and not worry about getting distracted by other contestants.
Appearing on MasterChef has lead to Ha inspiring many people and she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of fans.
“I had no idea coming on this show that I would inspire so many people,” she said. “I get emails, and Facebook messages, twitter messages from all over the world.”
Ha said she tells fans regardless of what obstacles face, they can be overcome.
The finale of MasterChef airs Monday, September 10th at 9/8 central on Fox.