When Martin Pistorius was 12-years-old, he came down with a strange illness that caused him to lose his ability to walk, talk and make eye contact, NPR.org reported.
Pistorius, of Harlow, England, appeared to be in a coma-like state, and doctors scratched their heads over his condition. Their best bet: crypotococcal meningitis. They told Rodney and Joan Pistorius, his parents, who were living in South Africa at the time, to take their son home because his time left was limited.
But, his mother said, “Martin just kept going, just kept going.”
Indeed, Pistorius kept going— insofar as his mind stayed active— for 12 years. Although his parents thought he’d been akin to a vegetable physically and mentally, Pistorius, now 39, says he regained consciousness about two years after the condition assaulted his body.
In sum, he still couldn’t speak or move, but he could think, he told NPR.
“Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn't notice when I began to be present again," he told NPR. "The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that— totally alone."
His mother, unaware of her son’s consciousness, didn’t think he could process anything she said.
One day she recalls uttering to him, "I hope you die."
“I know that’s a horrible thing to say,” she told NPR. “I just wanted some sort of relief.”
The lives of the Pistorius family centered around caring for Martin. NPR reported that Rodney Pistorius would wake up at 5 a.m. every day to get his son dressed and take him to a special care center.
"Eight hours later, I'd pick him up, 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," Rodney told NPR.
During those days, Martin Pistorius learned to numb his mind. His thoughts were his only companion, and they weren’t kind to him. “No one will ever show me tenderness,” he thought. “No one will ever love me.”
Disengaging from his mind involved thinking of absolutely nothing, he told NPR. "You simply exist. It's a very dark place to find yourself because, in a sense, you are allowing yourself to vanish."
But he couldn’t banish all of his thoughts. The popular TV show “Barney,” for example, aired on loop in the special care center where Pistorius’ father left him. "I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney," Martin told NPR.
Moving in and out of different care centers, Pistorius says that he was subjected to various types of abuse, from verbal to physical to even sexual from caretakers who were under the impression he was unconscious and unaware of his surroundings.
Pistorius later learned to reframe thoughts regarding statements like his mother’s. He realized that when she looked at him, she saw a cruel parody of the once-healthy child he had been.
"For her, it was like her son died when he was 12," Pistorius told Fox News.
Pistorius talked to Fox News about these years where he lived trapped in his own body. He developed several coping mechanisms to pass the time like watching the sun's shadows move across a room or watching two insects and imagine them racing. Martin lived in his imagination and would have conversations with himself and the people in his head.
He credits one of his caretakers, Virna van der Walt, for changing his life when she began to notice signs of comprehension when talking to him. "Having another person validate your existence is incredibly important," Pistorius said about Virna's revelation. "In a sense it makes you feel like you matter."
Virna convinced Pistorius' parents to send him for cognitive testing, which proved that his mind was perfectly healthy. This would be the catalyst he needed to regain control of his life.
One of the messages that Pistorius hopes people can take away from his story is to "never underestimate the power of the mind" and it was Pistorius' powerful mind that motivated him through rigorous rehab, which improved his mobility and communication skills greatly. He went from a man who depended completely on others to one who would graduate university, get a job and marry the love of his life.
"I am truly happy now, life is worth living," Pistorius told Fox News.