15 Things You Might Not Know About "Ghost Boy"

Martin Pistorius was a typical young boy, growing up in South Africa, until he wasn't. One day, the happy and healthy adolescent became sick, and his life was never the same. How, though, did "Ghost Boy" really come to be?

The Beginning

The BeginningGetty Images

Until he hit age 12, Martin Pistorius was a healthy child. In the '80s, his mind primarily revolved around technology, a fitting sign of what his future career held. This was all before he got sick with an illness the doctor's couldn't pin down, though they thought cryptococcal meningitis sounded about right.


DeteriorationMartin Pistorius

Pistorius was soon unable to move on his own and to make eye contact with others. Perhaps most difficult of all, Pistorius lost the capacity to speak. In fact, the doctors were convinced that Pistorius, who was eventually in a vegetative state, would eventually pass just like that.

New Normal

New NormalMartin Pistorius

To everyone's surprise, Martin didn't pass away. In order to best look after him, his parents, Rodney and Joan Pistorius, had a new life to contend with. For Rodney, this included waking up at 5 a.m. to get Martin ready and in the car before bringing him to care centers. At the end of the day, Rodney would "pick him up, bathe him, feed him, put him in bed," and prepare to do it all over again. He even had to wait a couple of hours to turn Martin so he wouldn't end up with bedsores.

Waking Up

Waking UpMartin Pistorius

Though no one was aware of it, Martin awoke from his vegetative state, at what he believes must have been 14 or 15 years of age. As his body no longer held the physical capabilities it once did, he was unable to let anyone know he was there and "aware of everything, just like any normal person."

Dark Words

Dark WordsMartin Pistorius

There is a particular day that sticks out in Pistorius' mind, as well his mother's, when she told her son she hoped that he would die. When it happened, Joan had no idea Martin could hear her, and she has explained that she regrets ever saying it. Martin understands; she was in the midst of a nightmare no parent should ever endure.

Darker Thoughts

Darker ThoughtsMartin Pistorius

Though he sympathized with his mother, Martin began to believe that he was going to be alone with his thoughts for the long haul. He never expected to feel the affection he so desperately hoped for, leaving him feeling a bit like a ghost. This led Martin to mentally disengage for emotional survival.

The Sun as a Clock

The Sun as a ClockGetty Images

Just like people did many, many years ago, Martin began to rely on the sun as his clock. This is what helped get him through the days he spent in a care center.

Fighting Back

Fighting BackGetty Images

Thankfully, Martin didn't remain disengaged forever. As he allowed his mind to heal, his body somehow began to follow suit, though this is still puzzling to doctors.


GlimmerMartin Pistorius

Finally, a woman from the care center noticed that Martin had a "glimmer in his eye," and his life changed once again. Thankfully, it was for the better, now someone knew he was in there.

Thanks to Her

Thanks to HerMartin Pistorius

That woman mentioned above pushed for Martin's parents to go to the Center for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and it was there that he was able to show everyone just how present and aware he was.

Playing Catch Up

Playing Catch UpMartin Pistorius

Though his formal education ended when he was only 12 and he had to relearn all that was learned as a child, Martin was able to attend and graduate from college.

Reliving Youth

Reliving YouthMartin Pistorius

Amongst the lessons Martin had to learn and relearn was driving. Though he now moves around with the help of a wheelchair, the car he drives is specially adapted and he can use just his hands to operate it.

Finding Love

Finding LoveMartin Pistorius

In 2009, Martin married Joanna, also originally from South Africa. Despite the difficulties people assume come with dating someone who's been through Martin's experiences, Joanna is adamant that she is "not his babysitter or his caretaker, and [she] never will be." They're equal partners, and the love is evident there.

Moving On

Moving OnMartin Pistorius

Martin and Joanna now live in Britain. While they originally agreed they didn't want to expand their family, they've now switched courses and are hoping to have children.

A Message for Everyone

Rather than dwell on his difficult past, Martin aims to look toward the future. He's grateful for things many people take for granted, like participating in a dialogue with others, most people would never stop to appreciate that. He urges people to do the following, "Treat everyone with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect ... Never underestimate the power of the mind ... and never stop dreaming."

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