Rugby legend brings his fight against motor neurone disease to city care centre

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Joost van der Westhuizen
Joost van der Westhuizen
Joost van der Westhuizen
Joost van der Westhuizen

INTERNATIONAL sporting superstar Joost van der Westhuizen will make an emotional journey to Peterborough next week to visit the town’s Eagle Wood Neurological Care Centre.

Former South African rugby captian Joost, who’s 43, is regarded as one of the world’s greatest ever players.

He was capped by the Springboks 89 times and starred in the side which won the World Cup in front of their home crowd – and President Nelson Mandela – in Johannesburg in 1995.

Father of two Joost was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the progressive muscle wasting condition motor neurone disease in 2011.

He now uses a wheelchair, and has severe difficulty with movement and speech. His health has deteriorated so quickly that this trip to the UK could be his last.

The former scrum half, who played 89 times for his country, is visiting Eagle Wood – the only centre of its kind in the UK to offer treatment and rehabilitation for all recognised neurological conditions –to find out more about the specialist care offered on the Bretton Way site.

Eagle Wood, officially opened by TV presenter Sir Tony Robinson in September last year, is owned by PJ Care, the country’s leading independent provider of specialist neurological care. The company already has a connection with the game of rugby in the town, as it sponsors the Peterborough Lions side.

Joost is hoping the visit, on Wednesday, November 12, will help him with his ambition to open an MND research centre in South Africa.

Since his diagnosis he has set up the J9 Foundation to educate people in South Africa about MND and its effects on both the patient and their families.

PJ Care is organising a special fundraising dinner at Eagle Wood on the evening of November 12 to raise money for the J9 Foundation.

Neil Russell, chief operating officer with PJ Care, first met Joost during a trip to South Africa in September with the company’s chief executive officer Johann van Zyl.

The rugby star expressed an interest in finding more about PJ Care, and about Eagle Wood, and Neil was delighted to arrange a visit.

Following their meeting, Neil said: “Despite his debilitating condition, the drive and determination that saw Joost play a key role in the World Cup winning South African team is still very evident in everything he does and the work he is doing to raise awareness of MND and other neurological conditions is remarkable.”

Johann added: “Joost is indeed a remarkable character and it is our pleasure to be able to host him in our award winning neurological centre in Peterborough, and take the opportunity to help him raise funds for the fantastic J9 Foundation and his own neurological research centre by holding a dinner in his honour.”

Joost is currently in South Africa preparing for his trip to the UK. But he has been saddened by the death of another Springbok player, Tinus Linee, who died on Monday at the age of 45 after being diagnosed with MND last year.

Joost wrote on Twitter: ‘Sad day for Rugby in SA. Just received news of the passing of a rugby legend and MND warrior Tinus Linee. RIP my friend’.

MND is a comparatively rare disease and affects about one in every 50,000 people. Little is known about what causes MND, and it is often very difficult to diagnose because it affects people in different ways.

Most commonly it causes an on-going loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing.

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