This Canadian Is Helping Children Celebrate Their Limb Difference
With a fun attitude and a messy kitchen, Alexis Hillyard creates limb difference awareness—and cooks up delicious vegan meals in the process.
Increase in Confidence
Callie Bizuk is used to being stared at. Born without part of her right arm, the 10-year-old has received looks and questions from strangers her whole life.
Last month, as Callie strolled through the aisles at an Edmonton grocery store, she spotted a younger girl staring at her and then asking her mother why Callie’s arm was “like that.”
Without hesitation, Callie approached the child, bent down, and let her see her arm up close. “My arm’s a little bit different,” Callie told her. She explained that just as children are born with varying hair colours, some are born with arms that might seem unusual. Callie’s mother, Kim, couldn’t have been prouder.
“Callie’s not hiding who she is. The other child is probably better off, too—her experience with someone with a difference was positive,” Kim says.
Callie used to feel embarrassed, hiding her “little arm” from view, or ducking behind her mother when others noticed it. But since meeting Alexis Hillyard two years ago, she’s more confident.
Hillyard, 36, is one of hundreds of Canadians born with a “limb difference” much like Callie’s. She’s also the creator and host of Stump Kitchen, the Edmonton-based cooking web series on which she cooks vegan and gluten-free fare. A devoted online audience of thousands tunes in both for the healthful recipes and to see Hillyard celebrate her stump, a focal point of the show.
Cooking hasn’t always been a passion of Hillyard’s. She dedicated herself to it a little over three years ago, after deciding to go vegan. She quickly realized she loved preparing her own food and soon launched a YouTube show, wanting to spread her newfound joy.
What started as a hobby has become a full-time career for Hillyard. Largely crowdfunded, Stump Kitchen is at once whimsical and educational, mixing recipes and “how-to” segments in which Hillyard explains how to perform tasks such as typing with her stump.
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Sense of Wonder
Hillyard’s stump has always been an integral part of her identity. For as long as she can remember, she’s given it a personality of its own.
At four years old, she began drawing faces on her stump and making it tiny costumes to entertain her younger sister. These days, on her show, she dresses it up from time to time, even finding creative ways of incorporating it into her Halloween costumes. (One year, she went as a scuba diver who had lost her arm in a shark attack. Her girlfriend dressed up as the shark.)
“It helps me celebrate and love this part of my body,” Hillyard explains.
Stump Kitchen has featured dozens of guests of various ages and backgrounds, but Hillyard shines brightest when children appear on her show.
In 2016, Hillyard was searching for a child “like her” to guest-star. When she met Callie through a mutual friend it was, as Hillyard likes to say, “double stump magic.” On the air, Callie has made everything from Brussels sprouts to chocolate pudding.
According to Kim, meeting Hillyard empowered Callie and taught her to celebrate her limb difference, to move beyond the idea that she simply needed to overcome her disability to succeed. Callie, much like her mentor, now loves to use her stump as a utensil. “It’s my own roller,” she says, proudly.
“The first time she came out of Alexis’s home after cooking with her, it’s like she was two inches taller,” says Kim. “She was just so enamored with the way Alexis moved, how she could do things.”
And Callie isn’t the only kid to feel this way. Ethan Siemens, a 10-year-old with a knack for scrambled eggs, is another of Stump Kitchen’s repeat guests.
He met Hillyard two years ago at a bowling alley, after his mother, Joanne, noticed a stranger with a limb difference similar to her son’s. She approached Hillyard, asking if she’d be up for an introduction. Ethan has felt less alone ever since.
“Everybody I knew had two hands and I felt like I was the only one like me,” he says. “I’m glad that I’m not the only one.”
So far, Ethan’s favourite moments in the kitchen have had less to do with culinary skills than with life lessons. He loves that Hillyard teaches her viewers it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to get messy, remembering an episode where they got into a pizza sauce fight. They were moving the dough with their stumps when Ethan took the opportunity to splash Hillyard with his pizza sauce. Hillyard didn’t waste a beat in striking back. “She still has stains on her wall from that,” he declares.
Beyond the Kitchen
In addition to Stump Kitchen, Hillyard spreads limb-difference awareness with her work as the first Canadian ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project. Based out of the United States, the nonprofit organization encourages children to celebrate their limb difference, answers questions, and helps connect families through social media and annual conferences.
Hillyard is frequently contacted by parents asking for advice, or wondering how to cope with bullies or accomplish tasks, like packaging a box, one-handed. At last year’s Lucky Fin Project conference, Hillyard taught a group of children how to make edible Play-Doh.
“Initially, some kids would use only their full hand to play. When they saw me using my stump, they would slowly use theirs,” Hillyard says. “That was impactful—being able to celebrate who we are, all together.”