After 12 Years of Immobility, Man Recovers From Vegetative State


“I can’t make a tip or a sound to let anyone know I’d become conscious again.” -Martin Pistorius.

Martin Pistorius had a normal childhood, growing up in South Africa in the late 70’s. His parents, Joan and Rodney Pistorius, described how Martin insisted that he’d one day be an ‘electrical man’. He was infatuated by any type of electronic equipment he could get his hands on. Coming home from school one day, a youthful Martin Pistorius became deathly ill. This wasn’t any normal influenza, yet, and Joan and Rodney saw their son start to sleep for more and more hours each day, almost like a baby. But everything would change for the worst when Martin was 12. He could not eat, refusing anything they set in front of him.

“I was imperceptible – the phantom son. My head was trapped inside a useless body, my arms and legs weren’t mine to command, and my voice was mute.” -Martin Pistorius

As the months went on, Martin’s parents could only watch as their son slowly started to shut down; first losing his ability to movie, then his ability to make eye contact, and eventually his speech. Martin was examined for everything in the books, including Parkinson’s, TB, mineral deficiency and much more, yet everything came back negative.

Eventually, a test came back positive. They were directed to take great care of Martin, to supply him with love until his departure. They were told that he was a vegetable, with no human thoughts left. It was said to be cryptococcal meningitis, something the physicians said had meant that there was no hope for Martin.

“He was eternally lying down in the fetal position,” said Rodney, in an interview with NPR. “He progressively got worse, likely in the next year of his illness. He was sleeping whenever we did not wake him up.”

They dressed him, fed him, bathed him and dropped him off at the particular care facility he was registered at on a daily basis. The years continued to pass as Rodney and Joan cared for their frail son. But something in Martin caused him to hold on for much longer than his prognosis had estimated.

Joan told NPR that she eventually came to a stage where she said to Martin, “I expect you [to] perish.” This exhausting cycle continued for another 10 years, literally taking everything from Joan and Rodney.

“I understand that’s a horrid thing to say. I simply needed some kind of relief… in my head, he’d already perished.”


However, the doctors insisted that Martin still had the mind of a 3-year old. Also, he was becoming better at holding himself erect in his wheelchair. Martin was now also able to squeeze someone else’s hand, a remarkable step forward considering his history. But one nurse, named Verna, was convinced that there was something there. By the time Martin was in his mid-20’s, something slowly started to change.

Martin was given a test where he needed to identify different things by pointing at them with his eyes. Surprisingly to many, he passed, not with flying colors, but he passed. She eventually convinced Joan and Rodney to get another assessment done else where.

“I later gave up my occupation,” said Joan.

Joan dedicated the following year teaching Martin the method of using a particular joystick for the computer, four hours every morning, until he eventually got it. Martin was now capable to choose words using his stick. Once he did, everything would change:

“He started moving his eyes and moving his head and almost nodding, asking for java by awakening his hands around and things like that. Shortly after, other things began to return to him.” These were his first touches of conveying: “I’m famished. I need toast. I’m chilly.”

For 8 of the 12 years he was diagnosed, Martin was imperceptible. From the surface, he was unresponsive; a vegetable. But deep inside, Martin said he was aware of everything. Martin described the very first procedure:

“I was there, not from the very start, but about a couple of years into my vegetative state, I started to awaken.”

“I think an excellent solution to describe it is much like an out of focus picture. At first you do not have any clue what it is, but slowly it comes into focus until you can see it in crystal clarity.”

Somewhere along this process, Martin quickly became immobile:

“I stared at my arm, willing it to go. Every little me condensed into that second.”

Martin remembered a second when his dad was helping him undress and how badly Martin was trying to share, but nothing in his body would mind him.

“Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn’t see when I started to be present again. The blunt reality hit me that I was really going to spend the rest of my own personal life like that – completely alone.”

Martin showed how he spent innumerable hours wallowing in self-defeat, “You will not ever get out. You’re pitiful, helpless, utterly alone.”

Was this really how he was to spend the remainder of his days living?


Martin was constantly compelled to see Barney, a TV show he now admits he completely despised. He used the show, along with all the motion of the Sun, to ascertain the time of day it was. This was his first semblance of control. Martin had totally let go of hope but, as he describes, occasionally there were unlikely sparks of inspiration. “You always possess the choice to count on having a fun day when you spend it with the folks you adore,” said Barney, the fictitious children’s TV show character. He understood his thoughts could help him. Simply comprehending where he was in the day gave him the awareness of having the capacity to scale through it.

However, as time passed, he slowly learned to understand his mom’s despair. He realized that it came from deep love for him. This also sometimes meant pain for Martin, like when he heard his mother say to him, “I expect you [to] perish.” Reengaging with his ideas transformed his world, and slowly, life began to have purpose.

“I ‘d have dialogues with myself and other men and women in my head.”

Astonishingly, this made him feel even closer to his mother:

“She could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she’d loved so much,” Martin said.

This, as formerly described, was the start of an inspiring new chapter for Martin. It wasn’t long after this when Martin’s nurse, Verna, saw the soul trapped inside Martin and insisted on getting him more help.

Martin Pistorius Now


Progressing through various levels of development, he eventually scored himself a job filing records at a local office and subsequently went onto repairing computers, developing a web design firm, earning a computer science degree and he even met a wonderful and adoring wife named Joanna (pictured above), whom he met through his sister. By tending into those dark ideas, it provided Martin with a self-comprehension and comedy about the human circumstance that empowered him to attain a lot more than he’d ever envisioned for himself.

“I turned around, and it was only this guy with this huge smile. And it’s such a warm fashion… Yeah. Okay, well, he is in a wheelchair, and he will not talk. However , I adore this guy. He’s awesome. It just so promptly turned into love,” said Joanna.

Martin’s story is actually one of many mixed emotions – depression, empathy, stress, misery, inspiration – though it stands as an unbelievable report of the ability of our will to live. Although his success might seem simplified by this insightful post, we can not forget the whole quantity of dedication and hard work it was for both Martin and his loved ones to get him to where he is now.


Roberts, Jeff. “Man Awakens From Severe Vegetative State After 12 Years – “I Was Aware Of Everything”.” CollectiveEvolution RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.


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