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Joost van der Westhuizen is still fight­ing.

By the time of go­ing to press yesterday, the South African rugby leg­end (45), who was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­ron disease seven years ago, was still putting up a brave fight.

This was after he de­vel­oped breath­ing prob­lems yesterday and was ad­mit­ted to the high-care unit at Four­ways Life Hospi­tal in Jo­han­nes­burg. He was placed on a ven­ti­la­tor.

Van der Westhuizen’s youngest brother, Gus­tav, said yesterday af­ter­noon that his brother, in typ­i­cal fash­ion, had not given up.

“Joost wants to see a cure for the disease,” he said.

“He’s still fight­ing, just like he fought on the rugby field. He keeps fight­ing be­cause he wants to see his chil­dren grow up and to see a cure for mo­tor neu­ron disease found,” said Claire Kaye Grob­ler, spokesper­son for Van der Westhuizen’s own char­ity, J9, at the hospi­tal.

Yesterday af­ter­noon, Van der Westhuizen’s best friends were fear­ing the worst. Re­cently, he had been on oxy­gen at home. Van der Westhuizen’s broth­ers Pi­eter and Gus­tav spent the en­tire day at the hospi­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to Grob­ler, the fam­ily was still hold­ing on to hope.

Van der Westhuizen’s good friend and for­mer Blue Bulls team-mate, Der­ick Hougaard, joined the broth­ers after lunch.

At the time of go­ing to press, the broth­ers and Hougaard were still at his bed­side.

“He still lives, be­yond that I can’t say any­thing,” Hougaard told Rap­port yesterday af­ter­noon.

Grob­ler said Van der Westhuizen’s two chil­dren, Kylie (10) and Jor­dan (12), were al­lowed near their fa­ther, but it was un­clear whether his for­mer wife and mother of his chil­dren, Amor Vit­tone, was by his side.

Grob­ler said the fam­ily found the false re­ports that Van der Westhuizen had died, which were posted on so­cial me­dia yesterday, quite dis­tress­ing.

Van der Westhuizen’s sud­den de­cline came after he was mak­ing jokes on Fri­day in an SMS to his old friend and doc­tor, Henry Kel­brick.

Kel­brick was the first to ques­tion Van der Westhuizen’s state of health when he wres­tled with him in the swim­ming pool and dis­cov­ered the for­mer Spring­bok had lost power in his right arm.

“On Fri­day night he com­plained that he was short of breath, but it was a pro­gres­sive prob­lem re­cently. This was why he al­ways had oxy­gen at hand,” said Kel­brick yesterday.

“His spirit never at any stage gave way to his ill­ness. His eyes con­tin­ued to sparkle and ev­ery day his chil­dren give him hope to keep fight­ing against the dev­as­tat­ing ill­ness that is mo­tor neu­ron disease.”

Ac­cord­ing to Kel­brick, Van der Westhuizen had beaten the disease in the sense that most vic­tims only sur­vive be­tween three and five years after be­ing di­ag­nosed.

“Un­til a few months ago, he drove with his chil­dren to school and fetched them again in the af­ter­noon.

“His glory and fame didn’t mat­ter to him any­more – just the time that he could spend with his chil­dren,” said Kel­brick, who was yesterday in the Western Cape and kept in con­tact with the Van der Westhuizen fam­ily by tele­phone.

“What­ever hap­pens, Joost al­ready had all his af­fairs in or­der two years ago be­cause the disease is so un­pre­dictable.”

– Rap­port


GLORY DAYS For­mer Spring­bok scrum half Joost van der Westhuizen in ac­tion for South Africa. He has been bat­tling mo­tor neu­ron disease for the past seven years

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