Man Who Woke From 12-Year Coma Says He Was Trapped in His Body, Aware of Everything

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In the late 1980s, when he was 12 years old, Martin Pistorius fell into a coma where he remained in a vegetative state for a dozen years.

Doctors in South Africa, where Pistorius is from, were not sure what caused the mystery illness, but suspected it was cryptococcal meningitis.

His condition grew worse and eventually he lost all ability to move, speak and make eye contact.

Physicians gave the boy a poor prognosis for surviving the unknown degenerative disease, but that did not stop his family from proceeding with a routine.

Every morning his father would get up at 5 a.m., dress the boy and take him to the care center. At the end of the day, he’d pick his son up, give him a bath, feed him dinner and put him to bed.

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

That was the family’s life for 12 years.

Today, Pistorius — now 39, married and living in Harlow, England — is once again able to communicate.

He uses a computer to speak and a wheelchair to move around. His awareness has fully returned.

Pistorius detailed his experience late last week during an interview on National Public Radio’s new program Invisibilia that has since prompted national and international media attention.

He told NPR that he thought he began to wake up about two years into his coma, when he was about 14 or 15 years old.

Pistorius remembered many things from that time, when everyone around him thought he couldn’t hear them and didn’t know what was going on.

“Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn’t notice when I began to be present again,” he told the radio program. “The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that — totally alone.”

Trapped in his body and incapable of moving or communicating with those around him, he said he felt “doomed.”

“You don’t really think about anything,” Pistorius said. “You simply exist. It’s a very dark place to find yourself because, in a sense, you are allowing yourself to vanish.”

Things were especially bad for him 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,” he said.

Sadly, Pistorius also heard his mother tell him, “I hope you die.”

Joan Pistorius felt guilty over expressing the sentiment, but Pistorius said he understood that it came from her own desperation and sadness for his bleak existence.

Pistorius ultimately wrote book about his experience. In “Ghost Boy: My Escape From A Life Locked Inside My Own Body,” he discussed at length his memories of those 12 years.

The book was released in paperback in September 2013.

A version of this story first appeared on KTLA sister station KTVI’s website.