/ South Africa

/ News

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

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.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Australian GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Golf - Joburg Open
    Golf - Honda Classic
    Tennis - Dubai Championships
    Tennis - Mexican Open
  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Rugby

    Warburton relishing 'good hit-out' in Paris

    Sam Warburton says he relishes the type of pressure that will accompany Wales in Saturday's Six Nations clash against France

  • Rugby

    Saint-Andre has faith in France

    France coach Philippe Saint-Andre insists Les Bleus are "not far away" as they look to remain in Six Nations title contention at Wales' expense on Saturday

  • Rugby

    Ireland will miss Heaslip, admits Schmidt

    Joe Schmidt has acknowledged Ireland must adapt their approach to cope without "big-game player" Jamie Heaslip in Sunday's Six Nations Grand Slam eliminator against England

  • Formula 1

    Hulkenberg: First impressions of 2015 car positive

    Jenson Button says he is encouraged by his first impression of the 2015 Force India but says it is way too early to gauge the car's performance

  • Rugby

    Pape appeals against 'excessive' ban

    France lock Pascal Pape has appealed against his 10-week ban for kneeing Ireland's Jamie Heaslip in the back, claiming the suspension "was excessive and disproportionate"

  • News
  • Features
Sponsored Links
Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income
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!