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Young Boy Falls Into A Mysterious Coma For A Decade, But He Was Actually "Awake"

NBC News / Washington Post

The world is already a scary place when you're conscious and able to interact with it. Now imagine losing all motor control but still trying to navigate and make sense of the world around you. It's simply a living hell.

In 1988, Martin Pistorius was only 12 years old when he lost all control of his body, and the worst part was that no one had any idea what was going on.

Growing up in South Africa, Martin was like any other healthy, ordinary boy, until something very strange happened.

He slowly started losing his ability to move, causing much distress in his family. Doctors were puzzled by the gradual decline of Martin's motor control, and chalked it up to being caused by cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain.

Although it seemed like a step forward, the diagnosis didn't mean there would be a cure for Martin, or that he would get any better.

The young boy couldn't walk or eat on his own anymore, and he slowly started losing his ability to communicate. His last words were, "When home?"

His condition continued to worsen until one day he was in a complete vegetative state, which lasted for approximately two years.

Martin spent a decade at home and in day-care centers, and during that time something incredibly strange happened - perhaps even stranger than his mysterious condition.

He "woke up" in a "land where dragons lie and no one could rescue [him]."

Martin believes he was about 16 years old when he began to regain consciousness.

“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," he told NBC News years later. “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 decide where you are, what you eat, whether you sit or lie down, in what position you lie in, everything.”

He felt both hopeless and helpless, and recalled that he felt "doomed" as if he was trapped on a deserted island.

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

There were two things that haunted Martin when he began to regain his consciousness, during a time he was still trapped in his body.

First, he clearly remembers watching reruns of Barney for hours every day: "I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney."

Second, he recalls when his mother wished he would die: "The rest of the world felt so far away when she said those words. As time passed, I gradually learned to understand my mother's desperation. Every time she looked at me, she could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she had loved so much."

As Martin worked diligently to strengthen his mind, he started gaining more control over his body. Now in his 40s, Martin is still bound by a wheelchair and uses a device that allows him to speak. That being said, he's accomplished so much.

He eventually was able to use a computer, go to college, and get married. Martin also published his story, Ghost Boy, which is about his experiences living with locked-in syndrome.

His condition may still be a mystery to many, but it hasn't impeded him from living a happy life.

"I am happy with who I am," he told The Wright Stuff. "Yes, life has its challenges, but then again, whose doesn't."

Moojan has been a writer at Shared for almost a year. When she's not on the lookout for viral content, she's looking at cute animal photos. Reach her at moojan@shared.com.