Real Life

How this courageous cook is baking her way to better health

Despite a series of medical crises, Auckland mum Rachel is inspiring thousands to get creative in the kitchen
Kellie Blizard

For Auckland foodie Rachel Hart, baking is more than just whipping up tasty lunchbox treats – it helps her to cope with the health hurdles that have plagued her life.

Every day, Rachel battles severe pain and debilitating numbness, and the past few years have been a blur of operations and medical struggles. But since starting her popular cooking blog One Handed Baker, she’s found that even the simplest of recipes can soothe the soul.

“I try to be positive and upbeat generally, but I have really tough days and I think baking absolutely helps with depression,” says Rachel, 43. “It’s calming and helps me to forget about the other things going on. I had no idea the blog would take off like it has, but the messages of support I’ve been given on social media have been amazing. That encouragement has made a world of difference to me.”

For the British-born journalist – who is mum to Max, 16, and daughter Macy, 15 – it all started with a fall at work. A reporter at TV3 at the time, she was in hot pursuit of a story when she took a nasty tumble, landing flat on her back on concrete.

“I remember I jumped straight back up, finished the story and went to air,” she explains. “Then the next day, I was in hospital with a fractured spine.”

After surgery and several serious complications, Rachel needed something to take her mind off things, so she decided on a cooking blog to share her love of simple family food.

A 2020 operation has left her hand numb.

“I called it One Handed Baker as a way of acknowledging the multi-tasking that all mums do,” she says. “Often when I was cooking at home, I would be tidying up or helping my daughter with her homework at the same time. Then when I started the blog, I usually had my phone in one hand as I was baking so I could film what I was doing.”

It wasn’t long before the blog and social media channels took off, and One Handed Baker now has more than 26,000 followers across Instagram and Facebook. However, little did Rachel know that her nickname would take on a new level of meaning as more health problems cropped up.

Another slip ended in a badly broken knee and after months of getting around on crutches, the strain from using them caused a range of shoulder issues, requiring further surgery. Things took another turn when Rachel – who has also worked on radio stations like The Edge and More FM – started a cooking segment on the now-defunct TV series The Café.

The former TV3 journo was a regular on The Café.

“Filming the show was really fast and busy, and the pain made it extra tough,” she remembers. “At first, nobody knew about my health problems, but it became obvious when I had to start wearing a sling. No matter how hard it got, I knew I had to just smile through it as nobody likes to see a grumpy mum on TV! But it was really full-on.”

Throughout the difficult times, kind messages from her TV viewers and blog followers helped her to keep going. “I was getting messages from people to say I had inspired them, including people who also lived with disabilities. It really lifted my mood.”

With the pain getting worse, Rachel went back to hospital for another complex shoulder operation in November 2020. Despite being no stranger to medical procedures, she could never have predicted what would happen next.

Having support from husband Alex is the icing on the cake.

“I woke up from surgery with no feeling at all in my right hand – and I’m right-handed! The surgery triggered an autoimmune response that turned off the signals from my brain to my hand and arm.

“Without the use of my hand, I can no longer drive, hold a pen, tie my shoelaces or peel vegetables. My life is just so different now. I never imagined this would ever happen to me and neither did my doctors as it’s quite rare.”

These days, Rachel grapples with severe sudden pain spasms, tremors and speech problems, alongside a long list of medical disorders. But the tenacious mum says her husband Alex and her two children help get her through her darkest days, and now she truly is a “one-handed baker”, she’s more determined than ever to stay positive and keep cooking.

“Luckily I can hold a wooden spoon in my left hand and make simple recipes,” she says. “I think the simple ones are usually the best anyway. The surgery has made me extra-clumsy, so I’ve smashed countless glasses and bowls, but I still do it! You have to just keep going.”

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