JOOST FIGHTING FOR LIFE
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.”
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