Photo Courtesy of Seamus Mullen
Anyone who knows me knows that I love food- cooking it, eating it, or watching shows about cooking it and eating it. If it has to do with food, chances are I’m going to enjoy it, so you can imagine my delight when Seamus Mullen, the talented chef from my favorite restaurant in New York City, appeared as a contestant battling it out on season two of the grueling Food Network show, The Next Iron Chef America.
What made his participation on this show extra meaningful to me was the fact that Seamus has rheumatoid arthritis. I watched eagerly week after week as he succeeded at each of the cooking challenges on the show, knowing the additional challenges he must also overcome from RA in order to make it through to the next week. It felt exciting and inspiring to see someone with RA on TV, and as the season wore on, he spoke about the difficulties of rheumatoid arthritis on the show.
That was back in 2009; these days, Seamus is working on some very exciting projects of his own, and I was lucky enough to catch up with him to talk about his experiences with RA in a job that can be very unforgiving and find out his views on food and rheumatoid arthritis.
Like many of us, Seamus didn’t have a clue about RA when he was diagnosed with it in 2007 after an excruciating flare up in his left hip landed him in the hospital for days. Unable to figure out what was causing ‘the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,’ as Seamus put it, the doctors were at first clueless as to what was going on; they even suggested that Seamus was making up the pain since there were no outward signs of trauma. But when he collapsed after they tried to make him walk, it became evident that he wasn’t exaggerating and that something was severely wrong. Finally, after several misdiagnoses, his doctor finally figured out the culprit was RA- and not a moment too soon since Seamus had been scheduled to go under the knife.
All of this coincided with a big break in his career as one of New York City’s up-and-coming chefs, so when Seamus learned he had rheumatoid arthritis – and learned what that might mean – he worried he was not going to be able to cook, that he would land in a wheelchair and wouldn’t be able to do his job.
Never one to walk (or limp) away from a challenge, Seamus persevered. His career continued to flourish even as he struggled to get his RA under control. A combination of hydroxychloroquine and naproxen helped, but he still suffered from some of the hallmarks of the disease: a general feeling of malaise, overall achiness, morning stiffness, and fatigue. Getting onto a biologic meant a battle with his insurance company, but eventually, he was able to start one and felt ‘immediately better.’ Unfortunately, the relief didn’t last, so prednisone was recently added to the mix to help manage the symptoms and flares he continues to have.