When he was just 12 years old, a mystery illness that started with a sore throat left him, Martin, in a virtual coma. Though he was treated for tuberculosis and cryptococcal menigitis, no conclusive diagnosis was ever made. Medication after medication was tried, to no effect. In just 18 months, the boy was already mute and wheelchair-bound. Everyone around him thought that he was so badly incapacitated that he couldn’t hear, much less understand, what was being said around him.  Doctors told his parents that his condition was some unknown degenerative disease that had left him with the mind of a baby and that he had probably wouldn’t survive more than two years. 

Unfortunately, the stress shook his parents’ marriage and their family and at one point he actually heard his mother say ‘You must die’. ‘You have to die,’ before leaving his room.  Her seemingly cruel words initially made him want to die himself, but he gradually learned to understand his mother’s desperation and to forgive her.  In his book Ghost Boy, Martin describes how he felt: “Have you ever seen one of those movies in which someone wakes up as a ghost but they don’t know that they’ve died? That’s how it was, as I realised people were looking through and around me. 

However much I tried to beg and plead, shout and scream, I couldn’t make them notice me. My mind was trapped inside a useless body, my arms and legs weren’t mine to control and my voice was mute. I couldn’t make a sign or a sound to let anyone know I’d become aware again. I was invisible – the ghost boy.” He goes on to explain that his mother’s sense of failure towards her son and her immense sense of unhappiness spiraled so far out of control that she tried to commit suicide about two years after he fell ill.

Over time Martin started to regain some control over body, though no one thought that his intelligence was still in tact. Slowly but surely, with the help of his family and a few people who really cared, Martin returned to life from his ghost-like existence. He learned to communicate via computer, make friends, and change his life. He remembers many things from that time, when everyone around him thought he couldn’t hear them and thought he didn’t know what was going on.