Martin Pistorius, a normal child with an interest in electronics, grew up in South Africa, but at the age of 12 a mysterious illness began to take hold of him. His symptoms started small: First he developed a sore throat, then he began sleeping most of the time, and eventually he lost his ability to move entirely.
(Martin pictured far right, front)
Doctors believed Martin suffered from cryptococcal meningitis. They were unable to help him, so they sent him home with his parents and told them they should care for the boy until his death.
At home the family developed a procedure for caring for Martin. The parents bathed him, fed him, and flipped him every 2 hours to make sure he didn’t develop bedsores. During the day they sent him off to a care center. Two years into his coma, Pistorius began slowly to regain consciousness, and by the time he was 16 he became fully aware of his situation; however, he was still not able to move his body at all. It would be 10 more years before he was able to communicate with anyone.
Martin spent his days with employees who cut corners with his care and abused him.
In his own words:
“It was horrific. Of course they [Martin’s parents] felt dreadful when they eventually found out and my father Rodney reported what happened but of course everyone denied it and as a result I have never had justice. People in the care home would pull my hair making my eyes water, the metal spoon would crash against my teeth as they forced food into my mouth.
“When it made me sick they’d shout and scream at me. I knew if I cried it would only make it worse. I would be forced to drink scalding tea or fed until I was sick, then I’d be slapped, shouted at, made to feel worthless, then would come the sexual attacks from women who were supposed to be looking after me. One woman would come into the room and straddle me and simulate sex with me and touch me inappropriately. Nothing made me feel more powerless, I longed to run away.”
Martin recalls that another lesser form of torture was the countless hours he spent, wheelchair parked in front of a TV, being forced to watch Barney reruns ad nauseam. His most painful moment was when his mother visited his room and quietly told him, ‘I hope you die.’.
Eventually, Martin became really good at disengaging from all of the terrible things that were constantly happening around him; it was through necessity that he kind of had to tune things out sometimes. But instead of taking complete solace in escaping, he began to also attempt methods to engage his thoughts. Through these attempts he was able to slowly make neurological developments. When he was 25 (2001), he was much improved and his therapist began to notice Martin’s attempts at communication.
As soon as people noticed he was functioning they began to help him. And as soon as he felt able, he set his mind to learning, trying to make up for lost time. He began to achieve miracles: First, he learned how to communicate through voice of a computer, then he went to school and got a degree, he married, started his own web design company, learned to drive, and even wrote a best selling book called Ghost Boy.
There is now so much fascination with his story that there is talk of a movie being made about him. He and his wife hope to be played by Matt Damon and Cameron Diaz.