Man Recovers From Illness That Paralyzed Him For 12 Years

| by Michael Howard
Martin PistoriousMartin Pistorious

Martin Pistorious was 12 years old and living in South Africa when he came down with a mystery illness that progressively robbed his ability to walk, eat on his own and communicate. It was 1988 and doctors were perplexed. They told Pistorious' parents that he now had the brain of a 3-month-old, and that he would soon die.

But they were mistaken.

"Martin just kept going, just kept going," his mother told NPR.

For four years, Pistorious lived in a near vegetative state, unaware of his surroundings. Then his mind began to slowly recover.

"For so many years, I was like a ghost," Pistorious told NBC News. "I could hear and see everything, but it was like I wasn't there. I was invisible."

But while his mind had begun to work again, his body was still paralyzed. All he had were his thoughts, and he was unable to express them.

"I would literally live in my imagination," he said. "Sometimes to such an extent that I became almost oblivious to my surroundings."

One night, following an argument with her husband, Pistorious' mother turned to her son, who she believed to be in a vegetative state.

"I hope you die," she said.

"I know that's a horrible thing to say," she told NPR. "I just wanted some sort of relief."

Pistorious says he was devastated by his mother's words.

"It broke my heart, in a way," he told NBC News. "But at the same time, particularly as I worked through all the emotions, I felt only love and compassion for my mother."

Then, in 2001, one of Pistorious' therapists told his parents to take him for cognitive testing – she had reason to believe that Pistorious was improving.

"He had a sparkle in his eye," Virna Van Der Walt wrote to NBC News. "I could see he was understanding me."

"She was the catalyst who changed everything," Pistorious said. "Had it not been for her, I would probably either be dead or forgotten in a care home somewhere."

It was a struggle, but gradually his body gained strength. He was given special equipment with which to communicate, and for the first time in a long time, he began to feel normal.

"I don't think I will ever forget that feeling when my mom asked me what I'd like for supper and I said, 'Spaghetti Bolognese,' and then she actually made that. I know that must seem insignificant, but for me that was amazing," he said.

In 2009, after relearning how to read and socialize, Pistorious got married. He and his wife plan to start a family. He now works as a web designer, and his memoir, "Ghost Boy," made The New York Times best-seller list.

From his remarkable experience, Pistorious learned a simple but wonderful lesson.

"Never underestimate the power of the mind, the importance of love and faith, and never stop dreaming," he said.

Sources: NPR, NBC News / Photo credit: Martin Pistorious via NPR

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