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Johannesburg - In an interview that many viewers described as heart-rending, Joost van der Westhuizen has spoken about his ongoing battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
His condition is a motor neuron disease that is characterised by slurred speech, clumsy fingers and a weak grip.
The disease targets motor neurons responsible for actions such as talking, walking, running, standing and chewing.
Sufferers also experience difficulty with fine hand motions such as buttoning, writing, turning a key in a lock and injecting themselves.
In an interview with Carte Blanche presenter Derek Watts on M-Net last night, Van der Westhuizen described some of his daily struggles.
He has problems injecting himself with an expensive and experimental goat serum that is meant to help alleviate some of the degenerative effects of the disease.
He is the eighth person in the world with his condition to use the goat serum treatment.
Some of his medication costs £200 (R2 700) a pill, and he takes two every morning.
Keeping his spirits up is a conscious decision he makes each morning.
He told Watts that “there was a time in the beginning when I just withdrew. And I actually had to make a decision: I’m going to sit here and die or you’re going to live your life, enjoy it while you can. And I wake up with a smile. I am still alive, not dead.”
He is also trying to spend as much time as possible with his children, eight-year-old Jordan and six-year-old Kylie.
Van der Westhuizen said in response to a question that his children gave him strength. “I want to get healthy for them.”
He dreams of walking his daughter down the aisle and seeing his son play ball.
Van der Westhuizen discovered that he was ill through his friend and doctor, Henry Kelbrick.
According to Kelbrick, they were playing in the pool when he noticed that Van der Westhuizen was losing power and had slurred speech.
At first he thought he was drunk, but realised they had not had anything to drink.
The doctor initially told him he would be wheelchair-bound within a year, but Van der Westhuizen has beaten the odds in the past 23 months.
He said the disease had humbled him. “I must say I was a bit arrogant. But that’s what my life of playing rugby made me. I am not blaming rugby at all. It is a question of everybody wants your autograph, your photo, your time… all your life, people looked after you. You got away with everything.”
Van der Westhuizen said his divorce from his wife Amor Vittone had not been finalised.
He described the process as “up and down, forth and back.” “
He said that he regretted some of the decisions he had made in the past three years, prompting Watts to bring up the sex tape (in a sex tape surfaced showing a man looking very much like Van der Westhuizen cavorting with a stripper..
Van der Westhuizen said the sex video was the darkest period in his life, and that with hindsight, the situation could have been handled differently.
“Back then you’re afraid that you’re going to lose everything and you grasp for [straws]...a string in the air that might help you, instead of just manning up.”
Viewers who watched the interview poured their hearts on social networks.
Cathy Steed on Facebook said: “Cried like a baby all through the Joost van der Westhuizen insert! What courage and faith! He should be allowed every available second with his beloved children!”
Sheri Jourbert said: “God bless you Joost. Hope you get more time with your kids!”
Neils Momberg on Twitter said: “Whatever people may think or not think of Joost, the way he’s handling his tragic circumstances is truly inspirational. Respect.”
Marnus Broodryk said: “Joost’s story reminds me of Hansie Cronje. A hero who screwed up, was crucified by all and then won back the heart of a nation. Life is short.” - The Star