For over a decade, Martin Pistorius was locked in his body unable to move, communicate, or even make eye contact. Doctors expected that he would die.
But after 12 years in a coma, Pistorius miraculously came back. Now 39 years old and married, he said he was "aware of everything just like any normal person" almost the whole time that he seemed dead to the world.
"Yes, I was there, not from the very beginning, but about two years into my vegetative state, I began to wake up," said Pistorius, who now lives in Harlow, England, NPR reports.
But although he was mentally present, he could not move and give any indications that he was there.
"Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn't notice when I began to be present again," he said. "The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that—totally alone."
In 1987 when he was a typical 12-year-old in South Africa, Pistorius contracted an illness that baffled doctors. He slipped into a mysterious coma that was suspected to be due to cryptococcal meningitis.
According to his website, he first "lost his voice and stopped eating," and then "within eighteen months he was mute and wheelchair-bound." Doctors told his parents that "an unknown degenerative disease had left him with the mind of a baby and with a poor prognosis for survival."
But though he was in a vegetative state for so long, his parents did not cease to care for him.
According to CBS 6, his father Rodney would get up at 5 every morning to dress him and bring him to the care centre, where oftentimes he would be placed in front of the television all day to watch Barney reruns.
"I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney," Martin admitted.
At the end of the day, his father would bathe him, feed him, and tuck him to bed.
His parents also set the alarm to go off every 2 hours so they would be reminded to turn his body to help their son avoid getting bed sores.
At one point, after years of seeing her once-healthy son lie unmoving and unresponsive, his mother Joan desperately wished that he would die.
"The rest of the world felt so far away when she said those words," Martin said.
"I never felt angry with my parents as I knew they loved me and they did the best they could," he added. "But I felt furious about the situation. There were many times when I cried inside. I reached a point where I essentially gave up."
But after getting fed up with his situation and feeling "doomed," Pistorius decided to teach himself to control and reorient his thoughts. Later on, his body began to respond and make the tiniest movements.
According to Thought Catalog, his aromatherapist, Virna van der Walt, was able to detect his "virtually imperceptible smiles, gazes and nods" when he was 25.
He made his leap to progress when his parents brought him a computer with a software that allowed him to communicate.
Against all odds, the child who was no more than a vegetable for years eventually graduated from college and was able to find employment in 2003. He married his girlfriend Joanna in 2009.
Speaking of his wife, Pistorius said, "It was she who has taught me to understand the true meaning of the Bible passage we were having read at the service: 'There are three things that will endure — faith, hope and love — and the greatest of these is love.'
"My life has encompassed all three and I know the greatest of all is indeed love, in all its forms. I'd experienced it as a boy and man, as a son, brother, grandson and friend, I'd seen it between others and I know it could sustain us through the darkest of times. "
Pistorius's story is told in detail in NPR's programme on human behaviour, Invisibilia, and in his book entitled Ghost Boy: My Escape from a Life Locked Inside My Own Body.