Celebrity Families

Matt Golinski opens up about loss, life and new beginnings

“What makes you think I’d want to be alive still?”

By Rebel Wylie

It's been almost seven years since the horrific home fire that left Ready, Steady, Cook chef, Matt Golinski with catastrophic burns to 40 percent of his body and, tragically saw him lose his wife Rachel and three young daughters, Sage, Willow and Starlia.

Now he's opened up and shared his inspiring story about loss, survival, recovery and beautiful new beginnings on Monday night's ABC broadcast of Australian Story.

What we learn is that Matt Golinski is an incredible human being capable of things that nobody could have imagined following the nightmare Boxing Day fire that tore through his home and turned his entire world upside down.

Throughout unimaginable physical and even more difficult heartbreak, he has forged on, and almost always has done so with other people's feelings and emotions front of mind.

And for this selfless, kind and inspiring man, the rewards are plentiful. None more so than finding new love with wife, Erin and being able to fight the odds together bringing beautiful daughter, Aluna into the world.

"She just lights up my world, it's amazing!" says Matt.

Matt with daughters, Sage, Willow and Starlia. Image: ABC News
Matt with daughters, Sage, Willow and Starlia. Image: ABC News

"Sorry mate, they’re all gone"

The Boxing Day fire was to change the lives of so many in so many ways.

While Golinski was treated in an induced coma for almost nine weeks, his friends and family and, indeed, the whole of Australia wondered what would happen we woke up. Would he have any memories of the fire that ripped through his family home? Would he know that his family was gone?

The job fell to Matt's dad, Keith to break the news.

"I was very nervous about that for quite some time," Keith Golinski tells Australian Story.

Matt finally awoke and immediately asked for phone to call Rachel. That was when Keith had to tell him: "I'm sorry mate, they're all gone."

He'd been preparing for this moment and knew there was never going to be an easy way.

For Matt, the emotional pain was worse than the physical pain. He just nodded, wondering why they had bothered to keep him alive for all that time, confessing to thinking: "What makes you think I'd want to be alive still?"

As for the night itself, Matt has his own memories, but they are not clear. "I can't put it into a cohesive sequence," he says.

"I probably spent about four months crying and screaming and asking myself why and fighting it," says Matt.

"It took some stupid, heavy drinking and all that sort of stupid stuff you do when you just want to destroy yourself. But in the end, there's no explanation for it … the only thing you can do is just accept sometimes that's how life goes and there's absolutely nothing you can do to change it."

Matt Golinski's life was turned upside down in the horrific housefire that took the lives of his wife, Rachael and three daughters, Sage, Willow and Starlia. Image: ABC News
Matt Golinski's life was turned upside down in the horrific housefire that took the lives of his wife, Rachael and three daughters, Sage, Willow and Starlia. Image: ABC News

“You’ve simply got to pick up and head in that direction …”

An incredible moment came when Keith was contacted, during Matt's recovery, by a woman who knew someone who had been helping Rachel edit a story she had been writing about the family's life.

Twins, Sage and Willow had De Vivo disease – a genetic condition, similar to Cerebal Palsy – that left them with developmental issues and prone to epileptic seizures. However, Rachel was determined that they live their best life and achieve things that were deemed impossible. The girls, aged 13 at the time of the fire, went to a mainstream school and were reaching milestones that nobody expected.

Keith was able to get a copy and was taken aback by the words of his beautiful daughter-in-law. "Life doesn't always follow the script you've written and when it takes a different direction you've simply got to pick up and head in that direction,"

Those words helped Matt and the rest of his family in his darkest days.

Food – a saviour

Matt knew that if he could cook again, life would be OK.

After months of gruelling physical therapy, where his limbs and skin were stretched and torn, Matt was determined to keep going.

On the first night out of hospital, Matt struggled in in the kitchen to prepare a stir-fry with scallops for friends. It was tough, but he did it. "Then I sort of knew that it was going to be OK,"Matt tells Australian Story.

Since then Matt has been cooking continually. In 2014 Gympie Council asked him to become their food culinary tourism ambassador. Other regions noticed and now a lot of Matt's time is spent travelling, meeting producers and cooking at special events.

Perhaps even more inspiring is the physical accomplishments Matt has conquered.

Always keen on running Matt set himself a challenge to run 5ks just one month after his hospital release.

Professionals said, "no." Keith said "no." The damage to Matt's body and organs including his lungs had been enormous.

However, just six weeks after his release, Matt completed 5ks wearing a burn suit. Just eight months later he ran 10kms in the Sunshine Coast marathon.

In 2013 he completed a half marathon. In 2014 a full marathon. This year Matt finished the 96km Kokoda challenge in the Gold Coast Hinterland in 24 hours.

"For me, it really is the thing that got me through emotionally, mentally, over the past six years: keeping myself busy and exercising as much as I possibly can,"

Matt Golinski and baby Aluna. Image: ABC News
Matt Golinski and baby Aluna. Image: ABC News

And then along came Erin

A growing friendship with a member of his rehab team, fitness trainer, Erin Yarwood was also helping raise Matt's spirits.

"He's just a beautiful person." says Erin.

While initially beginning as a friendship, neither interested in romance, Matt began noticing how Erin was with other patients.

"I could see with her this sort of genuine compassion for all these people that were in really vulnerable situations," he says. "They had strokes, they were confused and they were frustrated and she was just wonderfully compassionate with them."

For Erin, Matt had also gotten under her skin. "I know he would have been sad but you wouldn't know that from meeting him.," she says. "He would quite often bring us in things that he'd whipped up, different things to get him starting to cook again."

When Matt proposed he knew he was bringing a lot of baggage to the relationship.

"She just took it so naturally and so graciously," says Matt.

For Matt's sister Kathy, there is no doubt that Rachael would have approved, knowing she would have picked someone just like Erin: "A lot of people even think that possible she had something to do with it" she tells Australian Story.

Baby joy

Matt had always loved being a father, and if at all possible he wanted to be one again. However when he and Erin failed to fall pregnant naturally the news was not so good.

Matt was told he had no viable sperm. As is his way he refused to accept it, doctor hunting until he finally found someone willing to look a bit harder.

"The surgeon found 14," says Erin. "So then we had a chance to try IVF, and we were successful he first go. She's a very special little one. And she's got Matt's dimples. She's definitely meant to be here."

For Matt, Aluna is a ray of sunshine, who has helped him to heal.

"I'll miss my girls forever, but there's nothing I can do about that, so all I can do is accept it." says Matt.

"You never actually get over it. Nobody gets over it. But you have to get passed it."

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