Not So Dead After All


A new program series on National Public Radio (NPR) has brought fresh attention to the problems of diagnosing patients as being in a “vegetative state.”

The series, called “Invisibilia,” will highlight human behavior. Its first topic was a decades old story of a South African youth who spent 12 years in what doctors called a hopeless vegetative state.

So-called Experts recommended that he be taken home and allowed to die.

But, Martin Pistorius eventually recovered and lives a normal life today.

It’s an eye-opening reminder that family members facing life and death decisions for a loved one need to be in constant prayer, not assume that medical experts are always right, and seek second opinions.

“This is an especially critical issue when it comes to organ donation,” said GRTL President Dan Becker. “Organ harvesters are often far too eager to declare someone legally dead in order to practice their trade.”

Becker said the Pistorius story is a sobering reminder that we should never attempt to usurp God’s will and take such matters into our own hands.

In January 1988, 12-year-old Pistorius left school with a sore throat. In the following months, his body became weaker and his mind failed. His muscles wasted away, and his hands and feet curled like claws before he fell into a coma.

He was tentatively diagnosed with Cryptococci meningitis and tuberculosis of the brain, even though doctors weren’t exactly sure what was wrong with him.

“As a result of the brain infections, I ended up in a vegetative state—in other words, I was unable to react or respond to anything, or to communicate,” Pistorius, now 39, told MailOnline.

Unlike a coma, the vegetative state is a clinical condition where the patient is occasionally awake, but generally unaware of their surroundings.

Most medical experts feel persons in such a condition cannot think, reason, relate meaningfully with their environment, recognize loved ones, or feel emotions or discomfort.

Pistorius is a classic example—like many others—where the experts were wrong. While he was generally unconscious at first, after about two years he started waking up, eventually becoming fully conscious of everything around him.

“Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn’t notice when I began to be present again,” he told NPR.  “The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that—totally alone.”

Pistrious was even aware when his distraught mother once said, “I hope you die.”

On the lighter side, he also remembered that nurses, thinking that he couldn’t see or hear anything, played endless re-runs of “Barney” as he sat strapped into his wheel chair.

“I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney,” he said on NPR.

Eventually Pistorious’ body began to catch up to his mind and inexplicably began to hear. He learned to communicate using a computer and began to expand his world beyond the confines that had entrapped him.

In 2008, he met and married Joanna and immigrated to the United Kingdom.  He started his own business in 2010.

“To me this is a wonderful reminder that God is the great healer and miracles still happen,” Becker said.

When dealing with potential end-of-life situations, pro-life supporters are encouraged to:

  • Make sure all physicians involved clearly understand and support the family’s pro-life commitment to honoring the sanctity of life.
  • Verify that the hospital will honor your wishes.
  • Have a surrogate decision maker who supports your views available to become involved if necessary.
  • Ensure that a physician interested in organ harvesting is not involved in the decision making process.


By Wayne DuBois
Media Relations Advisor