Possible link between fertiliser and Joost's disease
FORMER Springbok scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen, 40, has said he may be confined to a wheelchair within six months.
He was diagnosed with a fatal motor neuron disease a year ago and given a life expectancy of two to five years.
This week he told of how he was "tormented" by thoughts of never seeing his daughter Kylie, 5, dance or son Jordan, 7, play rugby one day - and that "I would not be there for them".
"At times it has been emotionally terrible for me."
He said the disease, which is incurable, had been hard on his parents, "especially my dad".
"I had to drag myself out of it. Was I going to lie around at home and deteriorate quickly, or was I going to be as busy as possible and surround myself with positive people?
"I was diagnosed with amyo-trophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a year and one month ago and was told then that I could expect two years of quality life before the bad stuff sets in. Your body just gets weaker, but your mind stays 100%," he said.
The rugby great said there could be a link to his condition and the fertilisers and paint used on rugby fields.
When US specialist Dr Eric Pioro was treating Van der Westhuizen at his clinic in Cleveland, the doctor had asked whether the rugby player had ever been exposed to fertilisers.
Van der Westhuizen said: "I remembered having spent some time on farms as a child, but then it struck me: from the age of five I have been playing rugby and what did I do? I passed the ball. And what did I do before feeding a scrum or passing? I licked my fingers.
"Dr Pioro told me there's a soccer team in Italy in which six out of 11 players contracted ALS. They're focusing on fertiliser on sports fields being a contributor to coming down with ALS, as there is also an unusually high incidence of it among American farmers."
He said, however, that the link to fertilisers "is as yet unproven".
The Springbok legend was honoured at a banquet at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg, on Tuesday at a function attended by 1200 guests - including former Springbok captains and many of his teammates, such as those in the squad which won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
"The amazing brotherhood of rugby was a great help to me," Van der Westhuizen said. "Andre Venter [the Springbok flank confined to a wheelchair after contracting transverse myelitis, a disease of the spinal cord] contacted me and just said: 'Buddy, together we'll get through this,' and I've received letters of support from all over the world.
"I'm lucky I can still walk. My speech is affected. Both my arms are weak and my right leg causes me to limp," he said, slurring his words slightly.
"However, I'm lucky in that I can still look after myself although everything I do takes twice as long."
Van der Westhuizen said he had asked: "'Why me?' And the answer came, 'Why not me?' ... it registered with me that if this is the cross I have to bear to help future generations then I'll do it.
"I was a person who got away with a lot of things, I was arrogant and I can see that it was wrong," he said of the "sex, drugs and video tape" revelations that destroyed his marriage to singer Amore Vittone.
Despite apologising, the media continued to hound him: I sometimes felt South Africans only forgive people once they've gone to the grave ..." However, he was now in "a good place".