15 March 2018

Computer Science graduate, writer and web developer Martin Pistorius was recently welcomed back to the University for a special event, ‘An Evening with Martin Pistorius’.

Partly held by the UH Connect Reading Experience, the public event invited guests to join Martin Pistorius as he revealed his experiences of living with locked-in syndrome and the amazing success of his memoir ‘Ghost Boy’.

Martin, who joined the University in 2010, gave a moving and inspiring account of his struggles of being trapped in a body that can neither move or speak. Born in South Africa, Martin fell extremely ill aged 12, slipping into a coma-like state for 18 months before waking up to find that he was mute, and wheelchair bound.

Martin recalled how over ten years, he felt like a ghost, invisible and unable to communicate to anyone that he was gradually regaining consciousness.

Without a voice

He said, ‘Without a voice I couldn’t control the simplest of things’ revealing that being diagnosed with having the mentality of an infant, it was deemed that Martin would never improve his development or growth.

Martin explained the trauma and abuse he suffered at the care centres where he spent most of his days forced to eat the same food, made to watch countless reruns of ‘Barney’ and receiving no formal education. Most heart-wrenching of all was Martin witnessing the hardships his parents went through and not being able to offer them any words of comfort.

It wasn’t until his mid-twenties when a carer gave Martin the respect and recognition that he deserved, that his life began to change.

'Exhilarating and frustrating'

Within a year, Martin was using a computer programme to communicate, finding this new-found change ‘exhilarating and frustrating’ after having lived so long inside his own imagination.

After meeting his wife, Joan, and moving to the UK in 2008, Martin’s life was further transformed after being inspired by a lecture when attending an open day at the University of Hertfordshire.

Martin showcased his journey throughout university as an extraordinarily busy period of making friends, setting up and running his own web design development business, publishing his book – which has been translated in to 28 languages worldwide – and completing his degree to a first-class standard!

Honesty and humour

He also offered advice for current students in the audience with honesty and humour, urging them to work hard and make the most of their time at the University.

Martin’s presentation received a standing ovation from the audience who expressed how his courage and strength advocates how communication plays a central role in all our lives.

If you are interested in learning more about Martin’s story and to order his book, visit: www.martinpistorius.com

Article by alumna Aroona Shaukat, English Literature with Creative Writing, 2017