Prayers from Fel­low MND suf­ferer weeps for Joost rugby union

JOOST: 89 Tests for the Boks

Weekend Witness - - News - JININE BOTHA and GLO­RIA ED­WARDS AN­TOINETTE PIEN­AAR

“THE news about Joost’s health is dis­tress­ing in the ex­treme. The thoughts and prayers of Saru, the Spring­boks and the South African rugby com­mu­nity are with Joost and those near­est and dear­est to him at this chal­leng­ing time,” SA Rugby Union pres­i­dent Ore­gan Hoskins said in a state­ment yes­ter­day in re­ac­tion to the news that Joost van der Westhuizen has been di­ag­nosed with the de­gen­er­a­tive Mo­tor Neurone Disease (MND).

“He was an out­stand­ing Spring­bok and is a le­gend of our game — he will al­ways have a place of hon­our in the his­tory of Spring­bok rugby.”

Van der Westhuizen re­tired from rugby af­ter play­ing in his third Rugby World Cup in 2003. He played 89 Tests for the Spring­boks, a record at the time. He cap­tained the teams 10 times, in­clud­ing at the World Cup in 1999.

As scrumhalf, he scored 38 tries in Tests, in­clud­ing three hat-tricks, and still shares the Spring­bok record with Bryan Ha­bana.

For­mer team-mates also ex­pressed their good wishes and sym­pa­thy.

“We know he is a fighter and will get through it,” Ch­ester Wil­liams said of Van der Westhuizen.

“It gives me goosepim­ples to think about it. Af­ter ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pened to him, that this has to hap­pen as well. One wouldn’t wish it on any­one,” Wil­liams added. “AS a rugby player you were the best in the world. Fight the disease. A life with mean­ing is not some­thing that just hap­pens, but some­thing you cre­ate.” This was the mes­sage of sup­port to Joost van der Westhuizen from a paral­ysed man who com­mu­ni­cates via a spe­cial com­puter he con­trols with his eyes.

Deon Nel (51) of Krugers­dorp also suffers from Mo­tor Neurone Disease (MND). The keen rugby sup­porter was in tears yes­ter­day when he heard the news of Van Der Westhuizen’s diagnosis.

“Be­lieve in God, your fam­ily and friends and don’t un­der­es­ti­mate your sup­port­ers.

“I’ve been liv­ing on a ven­ti­la­tor for three years, get tube feed­ing and am be­ing nursed at home and I have qual­ity of life,” he said in his SMS.

In De­cem­ber last year, Nel com­mu­ni­cated with his fam­ily for the first time in two years, af­ter the ex­pen­sive spe­cial com­puter was do­nated to him. Dr Henry Kel­brick, Van der Westhuizen’s doc­tor and friend, said yes­ter­day tests are be­ing done to de­ter­mine what type of MND he has. “It’s ul­ti­mately hair­split­ting,” he said. “One wouldn’t want to have any type.”

Kel­brick said Van der Westhuizen was ini­tially very shocked at the diagnosis, but is now try­ing to come to terms with what he is up against. He is strug­gling with a lame right arm and some­times his speech slurs, but other­wise he is still func­tion­ing well.

PHOTO: AP FILE

MO­TOR Neurone Disease is the de­gen­er­a­tion of the nerve fi­bres that con­trol the mus­cles. There is no treat­ment and life ex­pectancy can vary from as lit­tle as 14 months to more than a decade. In the later stages, the disease af­fects the di­aphragm and the...

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