'Ghost Boy' Who Woke Up After 12 Years in Vegetative State: God Was My 'Constant Companion'; Answered My Prayer to Be Discovered as Trapped Intelligent Being

Editor's Note: At the age of 12, an unknown illness left Martin Pistorius wheelchair bound and unable to speak. He spent years in institutions – unable to physically or verbally communicate, though his mind was fully intact. After more than a decade in a vegetative state, Martin came back to life when he learned to communicate using computer technology. Martin is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body.

Martin Pistorius' father, Rodney, and Martin at home
Martin Pistorius' father, Rodney, and Martin at home | (Courtesy of Martin pistorius)
Martin Pistorius and his wife, Joanna, on their wedding day.
Martin Pistorius and his wife, Joanna, on their wedding day. | (Courtesy of Martin Pistorius)
Martin Pistorius with his parents graduates with honors in computer science in 2006.
Martin Pistorius with his parents graduates with honors in computer science in 2006. | (Courtesy of Martin Pistorius)
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I was 12-years-old when I came home from school one day complaining of a sore throat. Within 15 months, I was wheelchair-bound, mute and completely unresponsive. My parents were told that I was severely brain damaged and would surely die.

Doctors ran test after test but could not make a conclusive diagnosis. All they could say was that I was suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder. Lost in my dark, unseeing world, I was awake but unresponsive, unaware of anything around me. My parents were advised to put me into an institution where death would soon claim me.

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But it did not. And one day, about four years after I first fell ill, I started coming back to life. It was flashes at first: moments of awareness that left me almost as soon as they appeared. It took time for me to realize that I was completely alone in the middle of a sea of people: entombed in my body because my limbs were unresponsive and spastic and my voice was mute. I couldn't make a sign or a sound to tell anyone that I had come back to life.

Martin Pistorius at the day care center.
Martin Pistorius at the day care center. | (Courtesy of Martin Pistorius)

Have you ever seen one of those movies in which someone wakes up as a ghost but they don't know that they've died? That's how it was, as I realized people were looking through and around me. However much I tried to beg and plead, shout and scream, I couldn't make them notice me. I was trapped inside my body: the ghost boy.

I was utterly alone, until God came into my life. Waking up one night, I felt as if I were leaving my body. Floating upwards, I somehow knew that I was not breathing. But I also understood that I was not alone: angels were comforting and guiding me. I wanted to leave my life to be with them. I had nothing to live for, no reason to continue my journey on earth. But I also knew that I couldn't go with them. I couldn't leave behind the family that loved me and who had already been ripped apart by my illness. I had to stay.

The next moment, breath filled my lungs.

By the age of 19, I was completely aware and knew that God was with me as my mind knitted itself back together. Although I had grown up in a Christian home, we rarely attended services and I'd never learned the formalities of the church. But despite this, I instinctively knew that God was with me every moment.

I found myself talking to Him. Perhaps one could call them prayers, even though my eyes may have been open and my hands weren't pressed together. Even as I wrestled with frustration and despair, I prayed for help, strength and forgiveness for myself and others. I gave thanks for the blessings I had and especially for the prayers answered. It might have been something as small as someone moving my body into a different position, which elevated the pain that comes with being left in one position hour after hour. Or it was as significant as praying to keep my family safe because I was always terrified that they would come to harm. I learned through my prayers to be grateful for my blessings and found strength to survive even the darkest moments.

God was always there, a constant companion. And while a part of me experienced the extreme loneliness of being trapped inside my body, another always felt the presence of the Lord. We shared something important: I didn't have proof that He existed but I knew He was real. God did the same for me. Unlike the people around me, God knew I existed. He was always with me.

Martin Pistorius giving a presentation at an international conference in Israel in 1996.
Martin Pistorius giving a presentation at an international conference in Israel in 1996. | (Courtesy of Martin Pistorius)

My life changed forever when I was 25. A massage therapist who worked at the care home I attended began to suspect that I could understand what she was saying and urged my parents to have me tested. On the morning that I was evaluated at a specialized communication center in 2001, I prayed to God that someone would see the intelligence that was trapped inside me. They did. The experts realized I could understand simple commands and began to teach me how to communicate again – first using flash cards and switches and eventually advanced computer software. Within 18 months, I was able to verbally communicate using my "computer voice." I started to lecture about alternative communication and did voluntary work. In the years since, I've graduated with a first class honors degree in computer science and set up my own business as a web developer.

In so many ways, my life had been blessed. But there was one thing I longed for: love. Still in a wheelchair and unable to speak, I wondered if anyone would ever see past my physical limitations to the person inside.

On New Year's Day 2008, my parents and I called my sister on Skype because she was living in England. In the room with her was a woman who captivated me. Her name was Joanna. In the weeks and months that followed, we became friends, exchanged emails and chatted online – my typing and Joanna talking – and soon fell in love.

Meeting Joanna brought a new dimension to my faith. She had a very strong Christian upbringing and was actively involved in the church and the local community. Together we grew in faith, and a year later I moved to England to marry her.

Martin Pistorius meets Joanna at Heathrow Airport in August 2008.
Martin Pistorius meets Joanna at Heathrow Airport in August 2008. | (Courtesy of Martin Pistorius)

I can hardly describe what a blessing it was for us to be joined in marriage. I don't think either of us will ever forget the feeling of joy, happiness and thanks when we said our vows and the vicar proclaimed, "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder". For us that moment was palpable: the fact that the Lord brought us together and we knew He was with us as we were joined together in His presence was a moment that will stay with us forever.

Today, God is all around us, always there and a constant part of my life. For me being a Christian and having God in our life together isn't a choice, it's a fact. I continue to pray throughout each day because I know that God is with me and I can't help but to talk to Him.

Had it not been for God's hand, I would not be where I am today. I am sure of that. If I stop and think about everything that happened to me and the odds of not only surviving but coming back to life, there is no doubt in my mind that this could only have happened through divine intervention.

People often ask me if I was ever angry at God, if I ever railed against the path that I had to follow. The simple answer is no. I never questioned Him or wondered, "why me?" I never doubted Him or His presence. When I came back to life, I instinctively knew He was with me. Just as I instinctively knew that I could not blame or be angry with Him. I simply had to have faith. And I did.

Ghost Boy is available here.

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