It was the late 1980s. Martin Pistorious, only 12 years old at the time, was initially hospitalized with what doctors diagnosed as Cryptococci Meningitis. The boy’s condition quickly worsened, ultimately leaving him unable to move or speak.
Doctors ended up delivering heartbreaking news to the boy’s parents, telling them that their son’s time was limited and he would likely never be anything more than a vegetable. The parents were told by the hospital to keep Pistorious as comfortable as possible until he inevitably died, according to NPR.
Prepared for that unfathomably devastating outcome, the parents took their son home. But instead of dying, "Martin just kept going, just kept going," Joan Pistorius, the boy’s mother, told NPR.
For 12 years, the parents took care of Pistorious, which was a serious undertaking. The boy’s dad, Rodney Pistorius, would wake up every morning to dress his son and take him to a special care center. He would then pick him up eight hours later, “bathe him, feed him, put him in bed, set my alarm for two hours so that I'd wake up to turn him so that he didn't get bedsores.”
Throughout all those years, Martin Pistorious showed no signs of improvement and the parents had very little hope that their son would ever recover.
Joan even remembers once telling her son, “I hope you die.”
“I know that's a horrible thing to say. I just wanted some sort of relief,” she said.
But when Pistorious miraculously woke up, he claimed that he was “aware of everything” while trapped in a vegetative state — even his mother’s horrific comment.
“Yes, I was there, not from the very beginning, but about two years into my vegetative state, I began to wake up. I was aware of everything, just like any normal person,” Pistorious, now 39, recalled to NPR. “Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn’t notice when I began to be present again. The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that — totally alone.”
"You don't really think about anything. You simply exist. It's a very dark place to find yourself because, in a sense, you are allowing yourself to vanish,” he continued.
He said that his thoughts quickly grew dark, and he became convinced that no one would ever show him “tenderness” or love him ever again. However, he recalled that he was eventually able to relate to his grieving mother.
“As time passed, I gradually learned to understand my mother’s desperation. Every time she looked at me, she could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she had loved so much,” he added.
He also claims to remember how the care center where he was treated played “Barney” reruns over and over again.
“I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney,” he said.
Pistorious now lives in Harlow, England, and has published a memoir about his incredible claims titled, “Ghost Boy: My Escape From a Life Locked Inside My Own Body.”
For more information about Martin after he returned to life, listen to NPR's "Invisibilia" program debuting this weekend. The podcast is available on iTunes or at NPR.org.