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HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — It would be easy for Randy Samu to dwell on his misfortune. But that’s not his nature.
He’d rather tell you how his life has changed for the better –something you might not expect to hear from a man who underwent a double leg amputation about 15 years ago.
“My lifestyle was kind of crazy at one time,” Samu said. “Now, it’s much more stable. I actually feel better about
That’s not to say there haven’t been struggles.
First, he had to accept the loss of his legs, he said. Then, he had to adjust to a life in a wheelchair, a life with limited
working opportunities and a life on disability.
Samu, 49, originally is from Harrisburg, Pa., and was employed as a construction worker and auto mechanic for many years.
But he developed nerve damage in his legs and lost all circulation.
“The doctors ran test after test and couldn’t figure out why it was happening,” he said.
The result was amputation.
Samu said he was unable to work before surgery and rehabilitation, and for about six months lived in a shelter.
“At one time, I was making pretty good money,” he said. “Then, suddenly, I was homeless.”
After 16 months of healing, Samu said, he decided to settle down in Hagerstown.
“This area is one of few places that has bus service with a ramp for wheelchairs,” he said. “It was a deciding factor in
where I would live.”
But Samu couldn’t exist on nothing. So before moving to Hagerstown, he applied for disability and began receiving a check within six months.
He considers himself lucky.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people on disability who say it took them two to three years to get their Social Security income,” he
said. “I was very fortunate.”
Samu said he went from making about $25,000 to, today, living on $12,000 a year.
“You definitely have to sacrifice,” he said. “I think long and hard about every penny I spend — even little things that most
people don’t think twice about.”
Housing normally would eat up most of his money, Samu said. But he is able to save by renting a Section 8 apartment, where the rent is adjusted according to income.
Samu lives at the Alexander House in downtown Hagerstown and pays $340 a month for a 20-foot-by-20-foot efficiency apartment.
The building is well-maintained, he said, and has a laundry facility.
He pays his own heat, which is electric.
“But my apartment is on the sixth floor and is on the south side and has sun all day long,” he said. “So my heat bill is not
too bad and averages $30 a month. On the other hand, during the summer months, with the use of air conditioning, the electric is about $65 a month.”
Samu said he has his thermostat set at 68 in the winter and at 72 in the summer.
Because he is in a higher bracket of Social Security income, Samu doesn’t qualify for food assistance, he said.
“I could go to a food bank. But I’m a single person and, for me, it’s not that bad,” he said. “I know resources are available,
but I’m able to get by without much help. I feel there are people worse off than me who could use that food.”
Samu said he and his neighbors have become “a little community,” and since they all face similar financial struggles,
they help each other out.
“Each of us will take turns making a large meal — like chili — and share it,” he said. “Everybody’s looking out for each other. We all try to chip in, especially when we know someone is struggling. We really care about each other.”
Samu said utilities sometimes can cut into his food budget, which averages between $100 and $150 a month, especially during the winter months with soaring heating costs.
“But you learn how to make ends meet,” he said. “I always cut the heat back and, when it comes to food, I always buy generic, including coffee.”
“I’m a big coffee drinker, decaf only,” he said. “But I make my own instead of going to the local coffee shop.”
Watching his dollars also applies to entertainment.
There was a time, Samu said, when he enjoyed going to the movies. Now, he waits until they’re shown on television.
Because he’s on a tight budget, Samu said he only purchases what he absolutely needs.
“But I’ve never been a materialistic person,” he said. “So it’s not as difficult for me than it would be for someone who is
used to leading a different lifestyle. Too many people live beyond their means.”
“I don’t collect a lot of things. I’m not concerned about having a lot of possessions,” he said.
Most of his clothing, he said, comes from secondhand stores.
He is, however, a self-proclaimed “computer geek,” and does repairs for people who can’t afford to take their equipment to a repair shop.
“So if I do have a little extra money, I usually spend it on technical stuff,” he said.
Samu said there is one thing he wishes he could afford — a car.
“I’m physically able to drive a car with hand controls,” he said. “But there’s no way I could afford a car, plus the insurance
and gasoline. I’m basically stuck with public transportation.”
Samu said income isn’t a problem. Keeping busy is.
“That goes for anybody out of work,” he said. “When you’ve been used to working and suddenly that’s no longer an option, it’s difficult.”
But Samu has found rewarding opportunities to fill his days.
He’s active in the community and volunteers with six organizations.
He also volunteers at By Grace, a downtown Hagerstown homemade furniture and craft shop.
“I really believe that what you do for others comes back to you,” he said. “It’s not about the money. It’s always about
wanting to better people’s lives.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)