Utah man helps other amputees learn basic life skills

SAMOANA “Sam” Matagi can scale a coconut tree, shave and cast a fly rod on a pristine river – all with no hands.

Matagi, 42, is known on YouTube as the “No-Handed Bandit”, a moniker he bestowed on himself. Since he lost his hands in an accident, he has made dozens of how-to videos, entertaining step-by-step tutor-ials showing amputees across the globe how to tie a necktie, brush their teeth, drive a car or go rock-climbing.

“It makes my whole week when I come up with a new way to accomplish a task and then share it with other people who have lost their hands,” said Matagi, who lives near Salt Lake City, Utah, and works as an elementary school teacher’s aide for special-needs students.

His “no-handed” videos also include lessons for able-bodied people.

“People often feel awkward when they see an amputee struggling with a task,” Matagi said. “They’re not sure what to do, and sometimes their actions can add to the person’s feeling of helplessness.”

Samoana ‘Sam’ Matagi (R) and his brother, Fatu Matagi, in Salt Lake County, Utah. – WP-BLOOM

His advice?

“Say, ‘I know you can do this, but can I help you?’” he said. “That leaves the person with a feeling of empowerment.”

Matagi lost his hands in 2010 in an electrical accident while working as a power lineman in Kremmling, Colorado. He was holding a piece of cut wire that touched a live wire while he was doing maintenance on a transformer from a cherry picker. In an instant, more than 15,000 volts of electricity surged through his body.

After a co-worker rescued him, he was rushed to the University of Colorado Hospital burn clinic, where doctors worked desperately to save his hands. But the damage was too severe. Doctors told him that if he didn’t amputate his hands, he would get gangrene and die.

“It was tough to hear that, but I wanted to live,” Matagi said. “So I told them to take off my hands.”

Family members flew from Utah to Colorado to support him, including his brother Fatu Matagi, 38, a father of three and a substitute teacher. Fatu could relate to his brother’s loss in a way nobody else could: He lost his right hand and arm in an electrical accident while working as a power lineman in 2008.

Fatu Matagi knew that his brother was in for a journey of pain and frustration as he learned new ways to perform simple tasks once taken for granted.

“Get comfortable with fail-ure,” Fatu told his brother. “Everything will be hard, but don’t give up. Eventually, you’ll forget how convenient it was to have two arms and hands.”

Sam Matagi said it was hard to get his head around the idea that both he and his brother were amputees. The younger brother had a lot to teach his older brother. – WP-BLOOM