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What Martin Pistorius Can Teach us About Overcoming Obstacles

If you are not familiar with Martin Pistorius, let me introduce you. Martin is a South African man that just came out of a 12 year long coma. Since his reemergence into the world he has been awarded a degree in Computer Science, published a book and wed. There’s a little bit more to Martin’s story than that though, and I’m sure there is an uplifting motivational lesson to be learned in it. Join me on this journey to find out what Martin Pistorius can teach us about overcoming obstacles.

Barney is so unbearable it pushed me to will myself out of a coma

Probably the most terrifying aspect of Martin’s life is that two years after falling into a coma his mind became conscious, but his body still on the fritz. So essentially for the remaining 10 years of his coma Martin was trapped in his body unable to communicate. After extensive attempts to diagnose and treat Martin’s mysterious neurological condition the physician, in I’m sure much more scientific doctor jargon, told his family to wait for him to die. He was put in a long term nursing center, essentially catatonic at that point. As if to add a sadistic spin, worthy of the most teeth-grinding horror film, the nurses at the South African clinic would seat him in front of the television to watch Barney for hours on end.

His mother wished him dead

One of Martin’s darkest moments, as I’m sure it would be anyone’s in those same circumstances, was his mother wishing him dead. Thinking her son was completely unconscious she expressed her need for her once healthy, vivacious child to be freed from his torment. Little did she know that Martin was fully aware of her wish. During this period she also attempted suicide with an overdose of pills. Luckily, Martin’s father managed to get to her to hospital in time to save her. Her redemption came after that when she involved herself as intensely in Martin’s care as his father.

Puncturing the shroud of invisibility  

A health care worker named Virna van der Walt was the first person to notice that Martin could communicate. At this point he could restrictively nod his head, smile feebly and push air forcibly through his nose. He used these small cues to communicate though. Upon Virna’s request, Martin’s parents took him to a center for alternative communication. He was given a computer that helped him speak. The biological prison that he was allocated to for the past decade was finally crumbling.


No, this has nothing to do with a pet mouse Martin kept in his hair, but the device he used to control his communication device. It was essentially a headband with an inferred light that would control a mouse on the screen. He would scroll through symbols, select them and then have the device speak the phrase. If Martin did not have a certain word in his grid he would ‘pantomime’ them. He says one day, while adding colors to his device, he chose the ‘ear’ and ‘sink’ symbol. His mother said ‘so sounds like sink? Do you want pink?’ Martin smiled as a confirmation.

Get a job and a haircut  

 After using the device to communicate for a while, Martin found ways to modify and adapt it to sound more natural. His propensity for computers made his father suggest he could work at the care center he was in, assisting with computer problems. This gave Martin a further push forward and an elevated feeling of self-worth.   

As love knocks

At this point, Martin decided to study web design and was of the only two non-functioning speech South Africans to graduate. He met Joanna, a social worker and family acquaintance. He was immediately enamored by her and surprisingly to him, she was also. After communicating via email for a few months, they revealed their love for each other. Martin moved to England to live with Joanna and they were married shortly after.

Adversity was Martin’s best friend throughout his life. Trapped in his own body he forced himself to recovery, seemingly by pure will power, and after just a few years has accomplished what many people need decades to achieve. Amazingly, he did all this while dealing with the obstacles that are inherent with restricted physical ability. 

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