Martin Pistorius became a virtual 'vegetable' after falling into an unexplained coma when he was just 12 years old. He awoke after 12 years describing how he heard everything that was said, including his mother saying; "I hope you die." He survived and was the first guest on NPR's new radio show about human behavior, Invisibilia.
Martin describes his coma as being trapped inside a weakened, helpless body, unable to speak or move, but with his brain active. Because of his age, he had only children's programs to keep him company most of the time. He says it was his burning desire to get away from Barney, the always happy, dancing, purple dinosaur - whom he hated - that gave him the impetus to find a way to communicate.
In 2011, Martin wrote an autobiography, titled Ghost Boy, in which he details the amazing journey to speaking again, getting a degree and getting married. He shared some of this in a poignant first-person account for the Daily Mail.
In January 1988, when Martin Pistorius was 12 years old, he came home from school one day with a sore throat. He never returned to class.
In the months that followed, his condition deteriorated. Doctors were never able to conclusively pinpoint the exact cause of his ailment, but cryptococcal meningitis was the most likely culprit.
His mobility was the first to go, followed by his memory, leaving him an empty shell of his old self.
‘My muscles wasted, my limbs became spastic, my hands and feet curled in on themselves like claws,’ he wrote for Daily Mail. ‘I was completely unresponsive. I was in a virtual coma but the doctors couldn’t diagnose what had caused it.’
After months of tests and doctor visits, Martin's parents, Rodney and Joan Pistorius, were told that nothing can be done for him, and that the only option was to put their son in a home and let his degenerative neurological mystery illness run its course.
'Politely but firmly the medical profession washed its hands of me. We were in effect told to wait until my death released us all,' he wrote.
Speaking to NPR's Invisibilia from his home in Harlow, England, Pistorius said his darkest hour came when his mother entered into his room and told him, 'I hope you die.'
Joan Pistorius said she uttered those pitiless words thinking her vegetable-like son could not hear her. But he did.
Against all odds, Martin continued living.
For the next decade, his father's life consisted of getting up early in the morning, driving his helpless son to a special care center, then picking him up eight hours later and driving him home, where he would be bathed, fed and put to bed.
His mother initially wanted nothing to do with Martin, so great was her anger and resentment brought on by seeing her once-healthy boy turn into a 'potted plant.'
At one point during those dark days, Joan Pistorius even tried to take her own life by overdosing on pills, but her husband was able to get her to the hospital in time.
What Joan and Rodney did not know was that about two years into their son’s ailment, his mind 'switched on.'
'I began to wake up,' Pistorius, now age 39, told NPR, explaining that all of a sudden he was aware of 'everything.'
No one around Martin knew that he had regained his mental faculties because he still could not move his body or express himself verbally.
He was effectively trapped, and there was no way to escape.
In his lengthy account from 2011, Martin wrote: ‘Though my body and I were locked in an endless fight, my mind was getting stronger. Pieces of my consciousness knitted together.
‘I gradually became aware of each day and each hour in it. Most were forgettable but there were times I saw history unfold. Mandela becoming president in 1994 is a hazy memory but Diana’s death in 1997 is clear.
‘I knew who I was and where I was, and understood I’d been robbed of a real life.
Read more: Mail Online