Giving A Helping Hand

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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, an IT worker from Roslyn Heights, has always been someone who wanted to help those in need. When he took his family on a trip to his home country of India in 2011, he noticed a man walking with an amputated leg. It was a moment that resonated with him.

“That night, it came to my mind how it would be like living without having a leg for myself,” said Johnson. “I don’t know why that thought came to my mind. I thought I should be able to support somebody with an artificial leg.”

That’s what inspired Johnson to start Life and Limb, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 that provides prostheses to people dealing with diseases or accidents that cause amputations. Johnson’s main focus is on helping the state of Kerala in India, as the country does not have medical insurance.

“For poor individuals who struggled to put food on the table, once they have lost a limb, that’s it. The whole family struggles. Some are kids,” Johnson said.

Not knowing much about prostheses at first, Johnson did some research when he returned to the U.S. in 2011. He found a website called Ottobock, a prosthetic manufacturing company known best for its work with the Special Olympics. After a year sitting on the idea, Johnson wanted to see if there was a company in India that offered any services similar, but those that did were expensive and the prostheses themselves were heavy with plaster. Finally, Johnson discovered that Ottobock, who makes lighter limbs, had a branch in India.

Thanks to Samuel Johnson’s nonprofit, people in India have been granted a new lease on life with prosthetic legs.

“I went to them and asked ‘Hey, if I wanted to support 10 people in one year, how much would it cost?,’” Johnson said. “In American dollars, the average cost per limb is $1,500. They actually gave me a 10-percent discount because almost no one comes over to do this for charity since it’s so expensive.”

With help from media outlets, Johnson went from helping 10 people to helping 20 people in his first year because he didn’t want to refuse them. All the funds towards those prostheses came from him and his family.

“When I went there and helped for the first time, it was an amazing experience. I wanted to do it again, so I went the next year,” Johnson said.

Each person Johnson helps sends him an application which he has to approve. If approved, Ottobock will head to the home of the individual and measure their amputated arm or leg. Johnson figures out how much it costs and Ottobock will provide the appendage to the patient, who is trained to walk on it and then sent on their way.

Since his first trip, Johnson’s work has expanded to various other media platforms, from making YouTube videos to setting up a GoFundMe site that has raised more than $17,000. The amount of people that have been helped has also expanded, from 10-20 a year to more than 30 a year. Johnson is hoping it can grow to 50 next year.

“It’s really life changing when you hear their testimonies,” Johnson said. “People are carried onto the stage and are able to walk away. Some people with one leg walk away with two. When I come back to them and ask them how they are doing, they tell me they are living.”

Johnson has been driven by his faith, wanting to give back to God by giving back to people. He has also built small houses for people in India and provided money for people in financial need, including funding weddings for people. However, he feels like he’s changed more lives with Life and Limb than any other charitable thing he has done.

“It’s the least we can do in our lives,” said Johnson. “I don’t think I’ve been a happier person than in the last four years knowing I’m making a big difference on people’s lives.”
Johnson’s advice to people who want to donate more to people is to spend less on things you want, rather than things you need.

“I gave my daughters watches for their birthdays a few years ago. A few days later, I found out they sold those watches and I asked them why. They said, ‘you should use the money to help buy someone a new leg,’” Johnson said.

For more information or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/life-and-limb.

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Christopher Birsner is a reporter with Anton Media Group.

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