It’s the stuff of nightmares: being trapped in your own body, completely aware of your surroundings and unable to communicate with anyone around you.
When Martin Pistorius was just 12 years old, he fell into a coma. For the next 13 years, Martin was kept in a care home. Doctors said he had no idea what was going on around him.
But horrifyingly, Martin had already woken up at the age of 14 – and could see and hear everything.
It’s still not known what the mysterious illness was that Martin was struck with in 1987. He came home from school with a sore throat one day, and soon stopped eating and communicating, as well as sleeping almost constantly.
Bit by bit, he began to lose control of his body, and after a couple of treatments, doctors told his parents that he had been left with the mind of a baby. They told Martin’s family that they should take him home to die.
Martin spent more than a decade in care centres, unable to speak or move.
“For so many years, I was like a ghost. I could hear and see everything, but it was like I wasn’t there. I was invisible,” Martin told NBC News.
Speaking using a computor device that speaks out loud the words he types, he now tells the story of a terrifying life of hearing and seeing things all around him that he shouldn’t have seen – but not being able to do anything about it.
He even heard his mother tell him, in a moment of desperation, that he should die.
“It broke my heart, in a way,” he explains. “But at the same time, particularly as I worked through all the emotions, I felt only love and compassion for my mother.”
His mother now feels terrible about saying those words to her son, but Martin sees things a little differently.
“My mother often felt that she wasn’t a good mom and couldn’t take care of me. One of the hardest things for me was I couldn’t tell her that, ‘No, you are doing great.”
It was only in 2001, when a new care worker began working at his care center, that Martin’s nightmare began to have a light at the end of the tunnel.
The carer spent many hours sitting and talking to Martin, and she soon noticed a glimmer in his eye, and other tiny signals. She realized that Martin was more aware than everyone believed.
She urged Martin’s parents to have him evaluated at a specialized treatment centre, the Center for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Finally there, Martin was able to make his first communication with the world around him in almost two decades.
“She was the catalyst who changed everything. Had it not been for her, I would probably either be dead or forgotten in a care home somewhere,” Martin says of the carer who helped him.
A new life
Today, Martin’s life couldn’t look more different than his days at the care centre. He is now married, and lives with his wife in the UK. They are now hoping to start a family.
The scars of his years as the “Ghost Boy” haven’t completely left him. Martin still experiences some flashbacks, but mostly he’s extremely thankful for the life he has today.
“Life can change so quickly, that it is good to appreciate what you have in this moment,” Martin says, and continues:
“Treat everyone with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect — irrespective of whether you think they understand or not. Never underestimate the power of the mind, the importance of love and faith, and never stop dreaming.”
I’ve always believed in angels, and that care worker was no doubt an angel on Earth for Martin. It’s terrifying to imagine his ordeal, and to think about where he’d be today if it wasn’t for one kind-hearted carer who took the time to see Martin communicating.
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