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."

Martin, I saw where you recently participated in a wheelchair race. How did you prepare for the race?

“In the autumn of 2016, I discovered that there is a Wheelchair Racing squad. I spoke to the coach, Paralympian, Richard Chiassaro, about getting involved. Richard was extremely positive and supportive. He kindly provided me with the use of one of the club’s racing wheelchairs. I timidly took to the track and began training with the squad.

Martin's first 10km race.
(photo courtesy of M. Pistorius)
Not having participated in any sport before and having to learn how to push a racing wheelchair has been a challenging but enjoyable experience. Pushing the racing wheelchair is quite different from pushing a regular wheelchair. Specialised gloves are worn to protect your hands. Rather than gripping the push rims you effectively punch them.

After six months of training, my heart was pounding, I said a prayer and gave my first push off the start line. Not only was this my first race, but the first time I had taken the racing wheelchair on the open road. I completed the 10km race in a time of 44:31.”

That’s fantastic! Did you ever want to quit?

“No, the thought of quitting never entered my mind. I was determined that one way or another, I would finish. When fatigue began to set in, I kept reminding myself that with every push, I was getting closer to the finish line.

Since then, I have had the privilege to compete in my first track event at Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympics.

It’s an honour to be able to participate in wheelchair racing. It is fun and inspiring to participate alongside athletes of all abilities.

I am endlessly grateful for all of which I’ve been blessed. I thank the Lord that I have come so far that I am now able to do wheelchair racing.”
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

People all over the world experience arduous times with their jobs, their families and in their communities. They struggle physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What have you found that helps you conquer those times when doubts and fears loom? What helps you persevere through disappointments?

“The contrast of life is challenging for us all. While it is often not easy or pleasant to deal with, there seems to me to be a hidden gift within the dark and challenging moments of life (Deuteronomy 1:31). These moments help us to appreciate, and feel a deep gratitude, for the lighter more joyful moments. It seems to me too, these are the times and events when people, even those whose faith may not be that strong, turn to prayer.

For me, I think that it is important to firstly acknowledge, and possibly even accept, the feelings of disappointment, sadness, despair, and fear. Give yourself time to feel the feelings. However, it’s important not to get stuck here. Then reflect on the matter, learn what you can from that experience, and then move on.

Take time to effectively count your blessings. Even in the darkest moments, there are usually things we can be grateful for. Taking a moment to appreciate them can often help you to feel better.

Prayer has always been an integral part of my life, especially in [the difficult] moments.
(Matthew 21:22 and Luke 11:9-10).

Have faith, trusting the Lord that He has a plan, even if we can’t yet see it.
(Matthew 6:26 and 1 Corinthians 13:12)        

Martin and Joanna, thank you for sharing your time, photos, and thoughts with us. You both have an extraordinary gift of understanding the value of communication—with each other, with other people, and most importantly, with God.
You are in our prayers as you persevere in running the race set before you. 

Friends, may we all be strong and courageous as we live out our faith, and communicate to the world the Reason for our hope

GHOST BOY is translated
in twenty-five languages.
Connect with Martin on his Facebook page and at his website, MartinPistorius.com.

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  1. Barbara Neuper8/23/17, 11:18 AM

    Amazing and inspiring human being. I loved the book xx

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Barbara. I agree with you. The Pistorius couple are amazing and inspiring.


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