Casey Abrams wowed audiences on Season 10 of "American Idol" with his unique bluesy singing style. But his talent was briefly overshadowed when he was hospitalized during the show for complications of ulcerative colitis, a condition he was diagnosed with in college, but hadn't publicly revealed.
Looking back now, Abrams says the episode was a blessing in disguise. "When I read on TMZ that I was in the hospital I thought, I guess I have to talk about it now. It was a good kick in the butt to get it out there."
Abrams, currently part of American Idols Live Tour 2011, works with the New York City-based Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America to raise awareness of the chronic condition, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause inflammation and sores in parts of the digestive tract. Symptoms can include diarrhea, blood loss, abdominal cramping, weakness and weight loss.
The foundation is sponsoring IBD Icons, a competition in which people are invited to share their stories about living with the disease. Two IBD Icons (one with ulcerative colitis and one with Crohn's disease) will win a trip for two to Las Vegas and meet Abrams.
The singer took a few minutes to speak from a tour stop on Long Island, N.Y., about his health and how he manages the condition while on the road.
Q: How are you feeling these days?
A: Everything is good, my health is awesome.
Q: How are you handling your UC while you're on the road--touring sounds fun but also tough.
A: I really have to stay positive--that's true for life, too, not just for the condition I have. I always try to stay positive and try to get rid of stress. I'm doing what I love, and it is stressful on my mind and body and emotionally sometimes, but it's good stress. I'm able to handle it so far.
Compared to other people I have a very stress-free job. There are a lot of stories out there that don't even compare to mine. There are people in the military and people who are in school who have this. One of the crew members has Crohn's disease, and he's still doing what he loves.
Q: What do you do to take care of yourself while touring?
A: I have to watch what I eat--I eat chicken and scrambled eggs and other stuff, but I have to lay off the cheeseburgers and pizzas. And I take Remicade [known generically as infliximab, a medication that helps prevent inflammation in the intestinal tract].
Q: Ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease aren't things people regularly talk about. Do you think by being open about what you've been through has made it possible for other people to talk about it?
A: It's really not talked about that much because you're going to the bathroom 10 to 14 times a day during a flare-up and there's blood and it's kind of embarrassing. But if you have it, you have to talk about it, you have to see a doctor. When I was in college I had symptoms for two to three weeks--I was weak, and I couldn't walk across campus without getting winded. I thought it was a bug--I had stomach cramps, I was getting more pale and I was losing lots of blood.
Q: How did you feel when you were formally diagnosed?
A: I thought it was the end of my career and that if I ever wanted to do something along the lines of touring and going across the U.S., I wouldn't be able to do it. But I talked to my doctor and got the right remedies.
Q: When you were on "American Idol" why didn't you want people to know you had UC?
A: When you have UC or Crohn's disease, you don't want it to define you as a person. I wanted [the show] to be all about the music. And I think it was. I don't think this is defining me as a person. I think it's a part of me, a little obstacle I have to hurdle over every day, and I think that's the way you have to look at it.