Martin Pistorius, now 40, spent more than a decade trapped inside his own body, unable to speak or move, while his family believed he was unaware of the world around him.
For the first time, Pistorius has spoken out about his ordeal. He describes how he was at times mentally awake but unable to communicate such to his loved ones or doctors while suffering physical and sexual abuse by caretakers.
Pistorius was born in South Africa in 1975. When he was 12, he developed a mysterious illness. He had a sore throat, stopped eating, slept almost all the time, and stopped communicating. Over time, he lost control of his body.
He was treated for cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain, but doctors did not really know what was wrong. Doctors said he had degenerated to the point that his brain was that of a baby and that they should take him home to die.
Pistorius did not die, and lived on in a coma-like state for more than a decade at home and in daycare centers.
Pistorius likens the ordeal to being “like a ghost.”
“For so many years, I was like a ghost. I could hear and see everything, but it was like I wasn't there. I was invisible,” Pistorius told NBC News in his first U.S. television interview.
Pistorius was aware of his surroundings but could not communicate, leaving him “powerless.”
“It was terrifying at times,” Pistorius recalled. “What really got to me was the complete and utter powerlessness. Every single aspect of your life is controlled and determined by someone else. They decided where you are, what you eat, whether you sit or lie down, in what position you lie in, everything.”
Pistorius tried to signal he was alert by moving his body, but what he thought were big movements were hardly perceivable, leading him into despair.
“At first, when I was trapped inside my body, my biggest fear was being alone, which I guess is kind of ironic. Because, in a sense, even though there were people around me, I was alone. I think it was more a case that I felt that, as long as my parents were around, there would be someone to look out for me. But if there weren't, then what?” Pistorius said.
A great amount of Pistorius’ time was spent positioned in front of a TV at the care center watching the children’s show “Barney & Friends.” To this day, hearing the song sung by the purple dinosaur on the show triggers painful memories.
“I can't listen to or watch Barney now… Barney played, I guess you could say, a tormenting role in my life,” Pistorius said. “For years, I would get flashbacks and have nightmares.”
The pain of his time trapped inside of his body does not end there, as Pistorius has shared an even more traumatizing memory he has of his time at the care center — he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
“I would dread it whenever my parents told me they were taking me to the care home because I knew what would happen and I had no way of letting them know the agonies I’d suffer,” Pistorius said. “It was horrific. Of course they felt dreadful when they eventually found out and my father Rodney reported what happened but of course everyone denied it and as a result I have never had justice.
“People in the care home would pull my hair making my eyes water, the metal spoon would crash against my teeth as they forced food into my mouth. When it made me sick they’d shout and scream at me. I knew if I cried it would only make it worse.
“I would be forced to drink scalding tea or fed until I was sick, then I’d be slapped, shouted at, made to feel worthless, then would come the sexual attacks from women who were supposed to be looking after me.
“One woman would come into the room and straddle me and simulate sex with me and touch me inappropriately. Nothing made me feel more powerless, I longed to run away."
Pistorius regained full consciousness at the age of 25, and told his parents of the horrors he had endured. His father tried to press charges but there was no evidence.
Pistorius now works as a web designer after completing his studies in Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire. In July 2013, he married his wife Joanna, after meeting her online.
In order to communicate, Pistorius uses a voice synthesizer.
In the future, Pistorius and Joanna would like to start a family after admittedly being selfish and not wanting to "share each other with anyone else."
“She is the love of my life and perhaps, selfishly, we didn’t want to share each other with anyone else. But now I’ve finished studying and we are in a better position financially and professionally and we would love to have a family of our own. We are a little older now but we hope it may happen, we will just have to see,” Pistorius said.
There is talk that Pistorius’ story will be made into a Hollywood motion picture. Pistorius is open to the idea, and wants “anyone good looking, obviously,” to be cast in his role and his wife’s.