Man awakens after 12 years in ‘vegetative state,’ says he was aware of ‘everything’

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SOUTH AFRICA — In the late 1980s, a 12-year-old boy fell into a coma, where he remained in a vegetative state for 12 years.

Today that same boy, 39-year-old Martin Pistorius, is living a normal life. While he’s in a wheelchair and speaks with the help of a computer, his awareness has fully returned.

In his book “Ghost Boy: My Escape from a Life Locked Inside My Own Body,” Martin describes what he remembers from those 12 years and his remarkable recovery.

When he first fell ill, doctors in South Africa where he lived weren’t sure what caused his illness, but suspected it was cryptococcal meningitis.

Martin eventually lost all ability to move, speak and make eye contact with his family. Physicians said he would  die soon, but his family proceeded with a routine — dressing him, bathing him, feeding him dinner and putting him to bed.

His parents even set an alarm to go off every two hours to turn Martin’s body so he wouldn’t get bed sores.

It was their life for 12 years. But, Martin says he began to “wake up” when he was about 14 or 15 years old. At age 19, he was fully aware of what was going on around him.

“I was aware of everything, just like any normal person,” Martin tells National Public Radio.

Stuck in his body, without the ability to move or communicate, he felt doomed. It was especially bad when the care center would sit patients in front of the television all day, to “watch” children’s shows.

“I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney,”Martin said.

At one point, Martin heard his mother tell him, “I hope you die.” According to NPR, Joan Pistorius just wanted “some sort of relief” after caring for her son over the course of 12 years.

One day, Martin decided he’d had enough and started taking control of his thoughts. After his mind got better, his body began to improve. And he persevered to get where he is today.

Listen to NPR’s report on Pistorius, excerpts from his book, and their conversation with his parents Joan and Rodney Pistorius.


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