Former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. It is considered incurable and barely treatable. Van der Westhuizen has been given less than five years to live, and is now to undergo an experimental stem cell treatment. By MANDY DE WAAL.
Speaking at a press conference in Midrand, the former Springbok rugby captain Joost van der Westhuizen said that he would be undergoing treatment based on stem cells.
“Three weeks ago, fat cells were harvested from his body during a minor surgical procedure,” Beeld said. “Netcells Cryogenics isolated his mesenchymal stem cells, which also appear in babies’ umbilical cords and can help to repair damaged cells in the body.”
Van der Westhuizen’s neurologist Jody Pearl advised cautious optimism. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to help with the MND, but therapy is the most promising treatment we have to date in any kind of degenerative condition,” she said.
The treatment was developed by Steven Ray, a British neuro-scientist.
Motor neuron disease, or Lou Gehrig’s dease, is a term used to describe a group of neurological disorders that affect the cells that control voluntary muscle activity. The trend is irreversible and results in death. Lou Gehrig was an American baseball player who died in 1941 at the age of 37 of MND.
“I’ve been a fighter all my life,” Van der Westhuizen said. “I’m going to fight this thing mentally and to the best of my ability. Don’t worry; I’m not going to die on you too soon. I’m going to fight it.”
Van der Westhuizen is one of the most capped Springboks. He was part of the 1995 World Cup winning squad. DM
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