Many people have a fear of being paralysed. The thought of not being able to move or communicate, even for a few seconds, can send shivers down people's spines. But imagine being locked inside your body for years, yet still able to hear, see and comprehend everything around you.

That's what happened to Martin Pistorius when he was just 12 years old.

He came home from a day at school with a sore throat and within a few months he was in a vegetative state. Martin has told LADbible: "At first, the doctors thought I had flu and prescribed the usual treatment. However, my condition steadily got worse and I was hospitalised.

"I tested positive for cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain, and was treated for both. My body weakened and I lost the ability to speak and control my movements.

"I slipped away, becoming trapped inside my body."Martin with his dad

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Despite the diagnosis, doctors in South Africa couldn't offer a conclusive reason why his body shut down. Experts basically told his parents that there was nothing they could do for him and they should just wait for him to die so that tests could be carried out post-mortem.

However, Martin's parents, Joan and Rodney, weren't ready to give up on him and kept him alive in a care centre. He would spend the day there and return home every night. In his book, Ghost Boy, he hauntingly describes that period of his life as being like 'an empty shell, unaware of anything around me'.

But it was about four years later that he started to 'wake up', as he described: "I remember around my 16th birthday people talking about the stubble on my chin and wondering whether to shave me.

"It scared and confused me to listen to what was being said because, although I had no memories or sense of a past, I was sure I was a child and the voices were speaking about a soon-to-be man.Martin with his dad

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"I was able to hear, see and understand everything around me but I had absolutely no power or control over anything.

"For me, that feeling of complete and utter powerlessness is probably the worst feeling I have ever experienced, and I hope I never have to experience again. It is like you don't exist, every single thing in your life is decided by someone else. Everything, from what you wear, to what you eat and drink, even if you eat or drink, to where you will be tomorrow, or next week, and there is nothing you can do about it."

But the problem was, no one had realised Martin had regained consciousness and was taking in everything around him; they just assumed he was still in a virtual coma. Despite this, his dad would wash, feed, dress and make sure he was moved every few hours so he wouldn't develop bed sores.

Joan, however, kept her distance.

Martin says she struggled to come to terms with his condition. In his book, he recalls sitting in his wheelchair one day when his mum said to him: "You must die. You have to die."

Martin Pistorius in hospital

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He told us: "While I was very sad and upset by what she said, I understood where that was coming from. It broke my heart in a way, but not so much because of what she had said, but because we were in a situation where she felt that everyone would be better off if I wasn't alive. And, yes, at the time, I also often felt everyone would be better off if I were dead."

But in order to keep his sanity, he resorted to testing his imagination. He said: "I'd imagine all sorts of things, like being very small and climbing into a space ship and flying away. Or that my wheelchair would magically transform into a flying vehicle.

"I would sometimes watch things move, whether it be how sunlight moved throughout the day. Or watching insects of some sort scurry about, but, really, I lived in my mind to the point where at times I was oblivious to the world around me."

His first 'conversation' since becoming trapped inside his body happened with one of his relief carers at the day centre, Virna van der Walt. She was able to work out that Martin's brother, David, had bronchitis simply by asking him questions and carefully watching the movements on his face and head.

In 2001, when Martin was 25, Virna encouraged Martin's parents to take him to the Centre For Augmentative And Alternative Communication at the University Of Pretoria. It was there that a researcher held up a sheet of paper with symbols on it, and he was asked to locate a ball with his eyes. After finding the shape, he was asked to find the dog, and so on.

Martin with his computer software

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Slowly but surely, he was able to reveal that he was conscious and able to communicate. Nearly 13 years after he became ill, it was the turning point of Martin's life.

His parents invested in a computer which was preloaded with communication software, similar to the way Stephen Hawking's computer operates. Martin would select letters, words or symbols on the device using a band attached to his head, which would act like a mouse.

With his new-found voice, he played around with the speech patterns to make it sound more human. Apparently, the computer had several voices to choose from and he went with 'Perfect Paul', which Martin describes in his book as 'not too high, not too gruff'.

He went to work with Virna in 2003 at the centre, which gave him a sense of purpose and pride. That work led him to getting a paid position at Centre For Augmentative And Alternative Communication, before graduating from a South African university.

Martin graduating

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And then the next big moment of Martin's life happened, he met the love of his life, Joanna. She was a South African social worker living in Britain who had become friends with Martin's sister.

Martin said: "Over the years I have been blessed with many people who have had a real impact on my life. Joanna is one of those. I spent so many years thinking, wishing and hoping that I would find someone to share my life with. But I never thought I ever would.

"I remember one time while driving with my dad looking out the car window and thinking, I have so much love inside of me and nobody to give it to.

"But thankfully Joanna and I met. The moment we met, I think deep down I just knew, she was the one."

Martin and Joanna

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They got married in 2009 in Essex, where they now live, and Martin works as a web developer. He owes a lot to Joanna but he also pays an enormous tribute to his parents.

"I am truly grateful for all they have done for me," he says. "I wouldn't be here or the type of man I am today if it was not for them. I have tremendous admiration and respect for them. Each one had their own trying journey.

"My father was there for me when I really needed him and when my mother wasn't able to cope.

"My mother, despite all the heartbreak and trauma, in the end was the one who helped me to communicate again - which changed my life."

Featured Image Credit: Supplied

Stewart Perrie

Stewart Perrie is a Trending Journalist at LADbible. His first job was as a newsreader and journalist at the award winning Sydney radio station, Macquarie Radio. He was solely responsible for the content broadcast on multiple stations across Australia when the MH17, Germanwings and AirAsia disasters unfolded. Stewart has covered the conflict in Syria for LADbible, interviewing a doctor on the front line, and has contributed to the hugely successful UOKM8 campaign.

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