Utah double amputee returns from Ukraine with success stories

Apr 9, 2024, 11:08 AM | Updated: 11:11 am

WEST VALLEY CITY — A double amputee came home with success stories after a recent trip to Ukraine to help others like him.

In early March, Sam Matagi said he planned to visit the war-ravaged country in partnership with nonprofits Enhancing Skills for Life and Protez Hub.

Reports have estimated that Ukraine has seen a wave of over 20,000 new amputees since the Russian invasion and Matagi hoped to lend his expertise to groups of double amputees during the late March trek to Ivano-Frankivsk.

“These guys are brave, they’re tough, they love their country,” Matagi told KSL TV. “We were trying to bring them a sense of independence.”

Though the city is on the western side of Ukraine, Matagi said it was still obvious that he was in something of a war zone.

“We got off the bus and the first thing we were greeted by was the air alarm,” Matagi said. “We could see sandbags around the basement windows.”

Matagi said he was not only tasked with helping soldiers with amputations, but everyday civilians as well who had chosen to defend their country.

“When they came in they were pretty somber-looking, along with their wives,” Matagi observed.

He said many of the recent amputees were struggling with electronic hand prosthetics, which he said aren’t always the most effective prosthetics even though they most closely resemble what has been lost.

“You’re not going to see those hands picking up a quarter or a coin or a key that’s dropped on the floor,” Matagi said. “There’s a lot of things that those hands can’t do that these can.”

Matagi, who commonly uses prosthetic hooks to do many daily tasks including work at his computer, trained Ukrainians on how hooks can often be more effective and functional.

Sam Matagi came home with success stories after a recent trip to Ukraine to help other double amputees. (KSL TV)

He returned home with videos that showed recent amputees having success opening cans, placing small candies in their mouths and performing important restroom functions.

Matagi was particularly moved by one man’s progress.

“When he was able to pick up his e-cigarette and put it to his mouth, it kind of almost brought a tear to my eye,” he said.

Matagi said seeing the recent amputees with their challenges and struggles reminded him of his journey.

In 2010, an electric accident with a power line ended up taking both of his hands, essentially forcing him to relearn how to do everything.

He has since created a YouTube channel, the No-Handed Bandit, that provides how-to videos for double amputees.

“We can live an independent life,” Matagi said. “It’s just dependent upon what you’re using as prostheses.”

He said when he was a recent amputee he learned from others and he was grateful to offer the same in Ukraine.

“They’re going to succeed,” Matagi said. “They’re going to have more of those moments that help us to know why we’re alive, you know — why we’re here on this earth.”

KSL 5 TV Live

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Utah double amputee returns from Ukraine with success stories