Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview with Sam Matagi

In December 2010, Sam Matagi’s life changed forever when he lost both of his hands in an electrical accident while working as a power lineman in Colorado.  More than 14,000 volts of electricity surged through his body, leaving his hands irreversibly damaged.  After losing both of his hands, Sam credits his recovery to the dedicated professionals at the University of Utah Burn Center and Rehabilitation Center.  Now Sam finds his inspiration and strength in helping others who are struggling to accept personal challenges.

Sam(right) with Penumbra team member Steve Friedlein
JS You and your brother have both experienced terrible tragedies and instead of letting it crush you, you are both thrivingWhat family trait do you think has helped you the most?

SM We have the ability to go through change because of our upbringing.  From very early on, we were used to changing the way we did things.  If a problem presented itself…we had the creativity to think of a way to do overcome it by doing things differently.  In my life now for example, taking a shower without hands could be a daunting task if I wasn’t willing to accept the result of my injury.  For all of us, progress will be halted until we’re ready to accept the new places where life leads us.  I was blessed to have experienced a lot of change growing up, and was always encouraged to find ways to solve problems.

I believe it’s true that the only thing that is constant in life is change.  If we want to thrive, we have to be able to accept the unexpected.  The longer we protest, the longer it will take us to get over it.

JS Today you volunteer and help others facing similar challenges.  In your opinion, where does resiliency come from?

SM My resiliency comes from my upbringing.  In our family, we’ve experienced a lot of tragedies, & we had to learn to turn around, get back up and get going again.  The main positive example in my life is my mother.

My mother was an orphan, and she experienced a lot of terrifying things as a child.  But, you would never know the challenges she’s faced by talking to her.  She’s always bright, smiling and positive.  Those attributes are what I think creates resiliency. 

A lot of times when something like this happens to someone…they become bitter. 
When I went to the grocery store recently, there was a cashier watching me do my thing, and it was taking me a long time. When I finished she said, “I would have helped you, but I was afraid that you’d get mad.”  I thought, this must be a learned behavior from a prior negative experience she had with someone else.  

So, when a person comes up and asks me a question about my injury, I don’t want them to go away with a negative experience.

It’s important that we’re not offended by other people’s curiosity.
Every time you have an angry reaction or when you’re disturbed by someone’s curiosity – it’s going to set you back.

You have to be willing to put yourself in a vulnerable place.  People have to put themselves into a vulnerable place to approach me and speak with me, and I have to put myself in a vulnerable place to be willing to respond and answer questions. 

JS Most people don’t prepare for hardship until it’s upon us.  What is your advice to others to be best prepared for turbulent times?

SM The advice that I’d give to help prepare anyone for future challenges, is to stay positive when bad things happen.  Regardless how big the challenge is, it will open up a window of opportunity.  When I first got hurt, I didn’t see the opportunities, and it was like walking into a dark cave – But I knew there was an end…and I just had to keep moving forward even through the setbacks. 

Even with small struggles and challenges…the way you react is going to be magnified later on when you encounter extremely traumatic circumstances. 

Be willing to change.  A lot of people get upset when they have to do things differently. First, they protest.  But, the more willing they are to accept change, the faster they’ll be able to get past any trauma regardless of how overwhelming it may seem.

Sam has his own Youtube channel called the No-Handed Bandit where he shares informational videos he's made for amputees and their families, or if you just want to be flat-out inspired!

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