Next LIVE rugby on TV
to be announced
Wed, 31 Jul 2013 14:30:05 +0000
  • Switch Edition
ESPN SCRUM / South Africa / News
Follow@ESPNSCRUM
South African Rugby
Joost determined to fight "death sentence"
ESPNscrum Staff
May 23, 2011
South Africa scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen, South Africa v Samoa, Rugby World Cup, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, November 1, 2003
Van der Westhuizen is the Springboks' joint-record try scorer alongside Bryan Habana © Getty Images
Enlarge

Former South Africa scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen has spoken for the first time since being provisionally diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

The 40-year-old, a key member of the Springboks side that captured the 1995 Rugby World Cup crown, is still coming to terms with the initial medical opinion that he may only have three years to live but he has vowed to use his faith to fight what is currently an incurable disease.

"I'm fighting this illness with my faith. And my faith is strong," the 89-Test veteran told the Rapport newspaper in South Africa.

The ex-Bulls No.9 and the Springboks' joint-record try scorer has endured some difficult times since hanging up his boots in 2003. He was involved in a sex and drugs video scandal in 2009, that was confirmed with publication of his autobiography, and he also suffered a suspected heart attack earlier the same year. He was later dropped by broadcaster Supersport and his high-profile marriage to Afrikaans media personality Amor Vittone collapsed under the pressure in 2010.

"The stress that I have endured over the last two years is nothing compared to this," he said before adding that he felt his life was tumbling down when he heard the latest news. "The first thing I did was to check if my [insurance] policies are in order for my kids," he said. "The wind has been knocked out of my sails. I stared at the doctor in disbelief."

Van der Westhuizen revealed that he realised something was wrong in December last year. "I struggled to move my hand, but I just left it. It's typical; I thought it was an old sports injury," he said. "But, as time passed my speech became impaired. When I spoke to people, they would say, 'Joost, are you drunk?'"

Family friend and physician, Dr Henry Kelbrick, then sent Van der Westhuizen for tests and the results confirmed his fears. "After he told me I have motor neurone disease, he said that doctors didn't know how to treat it," recalled an emotional Van der Westhuizen. "I became a blank. I hardly remember anything from that day."

He has since visited Dr Jody Pearl - a Johannesburg-based neurologist - for a second opinion and she has since discharged him from hospital while they await a final diagnosis. "We are doing everything within our power, based on global best practice, to rapidly establish Joost's diagnosis, and to offer him the best possible therapy," Pearl said in a statement at the weekend.

Van der Westhuizen remains positive. "My faith carries me," he said. "I get unbelievable support from my parents (Mariaan and Gustav van der Westhuizen) and my two brothers (Pieter and Gustav Jr). My parents are really taking it very badly. But, I will fight this thing. Even if it's the last thing I do."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Rugby

    Springboks start Juan Smith against Pumas

    Juan Smith returns to Test rugby 18 months after retiring because of chronic injury, the Rugby World Cup winner named to start against Argentina in Salta

  • Rugby

    Jermoe Kaino, Ma'a Nonu miss Auckland Bledisloe

    Liam Messam and Ryan Crotty replace key injured All Blacks against Wallabies at Eden Park, with Conrad Smith restored to the starting side

  • Cricket

    Broad knee surgery confirmed

    The ECB has confirmed that Stuart Broad will undergo surgery on his right knee on September 4 to try and overcome the persistent tendonitis which has been managed for much of the last year

  • Cricket

    Hales glad to have missed out on IPL

    Alex Hales who earned a call-up to the England ODI side on Monday, has said that he is grateful he wasn't picked for IPL 2014, allowing him time to improve his four-day game

  • Football

    QPR complete signing of Fer

    Netherlands international midfielder Leroy Fer has completed a move from Norwich City to Queens Park Rangers for a reported fee of £7 million

Sponsored Links
Make $170 in 60 seconds!
Google Vs Facebook, 60 sec. knock out! Choose a champion, Become a Winner!
Make $25 in 1 Minute!
Start trading with the biggest broker! Register now to receive $25 for FREE!