Sombre news for ex-Bok star

By admin
20 May 2011

It was a symbolic bad-news day – Friday the 13th – when it was revealed that former Bok heroJoost van der Westhuizen had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

‘‘It’s probably one of the worst things a neurologist ever has to tell a patient,’’ says Cape Town neurologist Dr Izak Burger, who has treated many people with the disease.

Over the years he’s seen many patients die, and if Joost’s condition follows the usual pattern he could have only 18 months to live.

It’s heartbreaking news but that’s the average life expectancy for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the most common form of the disease – which Dr Burger believes has affected Joost. Some patients survive for up to five years but usually in extreme discomfort.

The cause is unknown but it affects mostly people over 40 and usually occurs between the ages of 50 and 70. Men are twice as likely as women to get it.

Motor neurone disease attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal column that send signals to the muscles that control movement and enable walking, talking, swallowing and breathing.

The cells and muscle function deteriorate and it becomes difficult to swallow, cough or breathe. Sufferers usually suffocate or die of pneumonia.

By 2003 Joost (40) had played 89 Tests for South Africa and scored 38 Test tries, a record he shares with Bryan Habana.

The former Bok captain has been felled in the prime of his life.

Other famous ALS sufferers include British actor David Niven, former Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tungand American academic Morrie Schwartz, who became internationally known through a bestselling book about him, Tuesdays with Morrie. It was adapted into a film starring Jack Lemmon.

Read more about motor neurone disease in the 26 May 2011 issue of YOU. CLICK HERE to follow us on Twitter.

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