Communicate and Persevere: An Interview with Martin and Joanna Pistorius

by Sally Matheny

Martin and Joanna Pistorius
(Photo courtesy of M. Pistorius)

How wonderful would it be to have a story so powerful the world asked for it in over twenty-five languages? 

In June 2015, I posted a review of an amazing book, Ghost Boy, written by Martin Pistorius. The following October, I conducted an interview with Martin’s wife, Joanna. Since then, Martin and Joanna have been living out their testimonies of love, hope, and faith.

Martin is featured in multiple venues including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, USA Today, on the Today Show, and on Fox News. I don’t think it’s just the fact that Ghost Boy is a New York Times bestseller. Martin and Joanna have something special that people want to hear more about.

Before we catch up with them, let me refresh your memory on Martin's story.

Last family photo before Martin's illness
(Photo courtesy of M. Pistorius)

At age 12, he lost his voice due to a mysterious illness. Within eighteen months he became a mute quadriplegic. The doctors compared Martin’s mind to that of an infant’s and stated he would die within two years.

He did not die. He became "invisible."  

For four years, Martin was in a waking coma state in an unresponsive shell, unseeing and unknowing of his surroundings. 

Then, around age sixteen, his mind slowly woke up. But, his body did not.

Martin Pistorius
(photo courtesy of M. Pistorius)

For ten years, his mind was completely aware—aware that he was trapped inside an unresponsive body and unable to communicate with others. Martin wasn't paralyzed, but no matter how hard he tried, he had no control of his spastic muscles, his curled fingers, or the voice that disappeared with his childhood. Without communication, he remained unheard.

Then all that changed when a therapist noticed a glint of understanding in Martin’s face. By 2001, even though his voice never returned, Martin learned to communicate again via use of a computer.

Several years later, Martin, a native of South Africa, fell in love with a social worker in England. He and Joanna were married in 2009. In 2010, Martin started his own business as a web designer. 

When Thomas Nelson published Ghost Boy in 2013, its message of perseverance and hope began circulating the world. It’s still going strong, as are Martin and Joanna, who kindly agreed to another interview.

First of all, congratulations on the celebration of your eighth wedding anniversary!  Several blog readers are newlyweds. Any words of wisdom you’d like to share with them?

Mr. and Mrs. Martin Pistorius
(courtesy of M. Pistorius)
“Thank you. 
As it is stated in Genesis 2:24 begin your new life as a married couple by not only physically leaving your parents, but emotionally. Establish boundaries, cling to and depend on each other. It’s important to take the time to become one with each other.

Focus on each other – if your focus is how to serve, support and love your partner then you are more likely to meet each other’s needs. 

Continue to do the little things you did for each other when you first met. It’s also important to make time for each other, even if that is simply to sit in each other’s arms and watch a movie.  

Always be honest and open with each other – you should be able to tell each other anything.”

That’s great advice! Taking time to focus on one another makes a huge difference.
Speaking of making a difference--most writers long to write a book that will influence the world. I know Ghost Boy changed my perspective.

Martin, you’re such a humble man, so I want to ask Joanna this next question. Joanna, I’m sure you’ve heard how Martin’s book has influenced people’s lives. Is there one story that stands out in your mind you’d be willing to share with us?

“Martin received a message from a mother that thanked him for Ghost Boy. Her daughter had been in a vegetative state for over 20 years. Having seen Martin on TV she got the audiobook of Ghost Boy. After her daughter had listened to Martin’s book, her daughter started making attempts to communicate. Through a lot of hard work, and plenty of support, her daughter is now communicating. The transformation has been truly remarkable! “

That is amazing! What a blessing it is to hear stories like that. Communication is so important. Not long ago, I listened to Martin’s TED talk online. He shared a powerful thought about communication.

"Communication is what makes us human, enabling us to connect on the deepest level with those around us. True communication increases understanding and creates a more caring and compassionate world."