WATCH: Joost's dream now a reality as clinic opens in Soweto

Late rugby giant Joost van der Westhuizen's dream has finally come true thanks to people who rallied behind him during his battle with motor neuron disease (MND), his family said on Friday.

Van der Westhuizen's brother Pieter, was speaking shortly after the opening of the Van der Westhuizen's neurodegeneration centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Friday. 

"This is such a big honour for us. One of Joost's dreams came true with a lot of hard work and people standing behind him and fulfilling his dream," Pieter said.

Among those who attended the ground-breaking initiative were Gauteng MEC for Health Gwen Ramokgopa and MEC for Sports, Art, Culture and Recreation Faith Mazibuko.

Van der Westhuizen lost his battle with motor neuron disease in February 2017. The former Springbok, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2011, is widely seen as bringing the South African public's attention to MND. 

Van der Westhuizen played 89 tests for the Springboks between 1993 and 2003.

"It is very difficult to lose somebody. It keeps a hole in your heart, but everyone must go on and we go on day by day."

Pieter said families on a similar journey should always stay positive.

"It is not easy. It is very difficult. Treat the person who is going through it with love. Make memories as far as you can."

Joost van der Westhuizen's parents, Gustav and Mariana, at the launch of the Van der Westhuizen's neurodegeneration centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. (Felix Dlangmandla/Netwerk24)

Head of the neurology department at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Professor Andre Mochan, who previously worked with Van der Westhuizen, described the disease as "one of the worst diseases that has ever been bestowed to mankind. It is not a common disease".

He said the disease affects a person's entire lifestyle and their families.

He added that they were now providing a platform for patients. However, as doctors "we can't cure the disease. We can't stop the progression, but at least we can accompany them along the way in the best possible manner to ease the progression".

The motor neuron disease clinic is the first of its kind in Gauteng, with two sister clinics in Cape Town. 

Meanwhile, Ramokgopa thanked the family for "sharing" Joost with the country.

"He is actually a South African hero. He remains a hero in terms of giving us hope," she said.

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