Growing up in South Africa, Martin Pistorius was a healthy 12-year-old until he came home sick from school one day and was soon diagnosed with a degenerative illness. He fell into a coma, unable to communicate or move, but doctors were wrong about one thing.

Everyone thought Martin could no longer understand what was going on around him, but he was actually fully aware after the first couple of years or so. For nearly a decade he was awake and able to overhear conversations like a ghost, and he saw how people are when they think no one is watching. His mother, for example, said she hoped he would die, in a moment of despair. But Martin understood where she was coming from, and wished he could tell her she was a good mother.

Martin also often witnessed a lot of abuse, but said most of his caregivers were good people. One, a therapist, noticed a glimmer in his eye, which led to tests that revealed he could communicate. Thanks to that, his mind and body slowly got stronger, and after years of hard work he can now speak through computer and is even happily married. Martin's message for us all is to treat everyone with compassion and respect, whether or not you think they understand.