‘No-one knew he was in there’

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 22 Maret 2015 | 23.08

'Ghost Boy' tells the incredible story of Martin Pistorius, a man who was trapped in a vegetative state for 12 years. Courtesy Thomas Nelson

Miracle return. Martin Pistorius (right) on the mend. Picture: 60 Minutes. Source: Supplied

MARTIN Pistorius was a bright, fun-loving, happy young boy until one day, a mystery illness changed his life forever.

Trapped in a virtual coma he lost everything that enabled him to function in the outside world.

His intelligence, his memory and his ability to function were all gone.

In a heartwarming interview with 60 Minutes, which aired tonight, reporter Tara Brown discovers the miracle journey of Martin Pistorius's incredible return to life.


In January 1988 Pistorius was 12 and living in South Africa when he returned from school early complaining of a sore throat.

In the following months, his body weakened.

His muscles wasted away and his hands and feet curled like claws before he fell into a coma.

The young boy was diagnosed with Cryptococci meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain, but doctors weren't really sure what was wrong with him.

Martin's parents had to endure the horror as their young boy slipped away into illness and was held prisoner inside his own body for more than a decade.

Martin Pistorius went into a coma at age 12. Picture: 60 Minutes. Source: Supplied

But after all hope was lost, there was one nurse who would save him.

Martin started to slowly come back to life — but no one knew he was "in there".

And he had no way of telling anyone.

It took another six more painful years before he could see and hear everything.

"I think probably the scariest thing for me was probably that I never saw this thing would change," Martin told 60 Minutes through a computer voice system.

He told the program he didn't have any memories from childhood and can only piece it together through photos.

His parents Joan and Rodney said it was shattering when he stopped talking then would grunt before also losing that ability.

Speaking about all those lost years Rodney said: "He was basically an entity that was there. We were told Martin had the mental age of a three month old."

His mother was so devastated at her son's illness she even attempted suicide, unable to accept what her son had become.

"The child that I knew had died," she said.

Painfully aware ... Martin Pistorius could hear and see everything around him but couldn't communicate. Picture: YouTube/Thomas Nelson Source: Supplied

As he began to slowly regain some mind consciousness he said it was like his mind was focusing but his body wasn't there.

He was like a silent witness to events including the September 11 attacks.

"I tried hard to communicate but when I realised it wasn't working I gave up trying," he said.

But it was his mother telling him to die which devastated him the most.

"My mother turned to me and told me I must die, it was difficult to hear particularly coming from my mum," he said.

Those words came back to haunt her when she realised he could hear her.

"I was absolutely horrified that he actually understood that, what mother says that to her child?" she said.

Martin also told the program his greatest fear was dying in a care home where he says he was abused.

Then one miraculous day, a relief nurse saw that behind Martin's eyes was an incredibly bright brain at work.

"Happiness surged through me. I was Muhammad Ali, John McEnroe, Fred Trueman. Crowds roared their approval as I took a lap of honour," Pistorius said of the moment his therapist Virna Vanderwalt acknowledged his consciousness.

With Vanderwalt's help Martin proved his awakening and began his inspiring journey back to life.

At her request, Pistorius' parents sent him to the Centre For Augmentative And Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria where tests confirmed he was aware and could respond to statements.

His parents bought him a computer with communication software. After years of therapy and intense computer-based exercises, he was able to use a computer to write messages and operate a synthetic voice. He taught himself to read and write.

Now he has finished school and university, moved countries and has a successful career — all without speaking a word.

He has also discovered something much more elusive, which he never thought he'd experience — Martin has found true love with his wife Joanna.

He told the program he was so nervous about proposing to her, he almost dropped the ring and had recorded his message for her to hear.

Pistorius proposed to Joanna in a hot-air balloon in December 2008 before they wed in June 2009.

"I feel like saying yes again," she told the show.

The couple, now living in the UK, have also revealed they would love to start a family.

"It was she (Joanna) who has taught me to understand the true meaning of the Bible passage we were having read at the service: 'There are three things that will endure — faith, hope and love — and the greatest of these is love'," Pistorius said.

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