Joost upbeat despite setbacks

Joost van der Westhuizen says he only uses an oxygen machine when he can't breathe on his own, but insists his life doesn't depend on the device.

Van der Westhuizen was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2011, and was given between two and five years to live.

He has since been confined to a wheelchair after losing the use of his arms and legs, is only able to talk via a speech-generating device, can't keep his head up without support, and he has to be fed.

But despite the setbacks, Van der Westhuizen has always been able to breathe on his own. That was until two months ago when his weakened chest muscles refused to cooperate and he couldn't inhale a breath of air.

Van der Westhuizen told his brother Pieter about the incident, after which the family decided to get him an oxygen machine as precaution, as recommended by doctor Henry Kelbrick.

'We kept quiet about the oxygen machine because it upsets Kylie [his 10-year-old daughter] to see me like that,' Van der Westhuizen told Huisgenoot in an exclusive interview.

Van der Westhuizen says the machine has helped him sleep better.

'I follow a healthy diet and one's body tends to recover when you sleep.'

While Van der Westhuizen can always count on Pieter to be there for him, he has decided to rather appoint three caregivers to look after him.

'My family and friends don't look after me anymore. It is unfair to expect it from them,' added Van der Westhuizen.

He is now in the care of Mike Burger (66), Bell-inn Muzarewetu (32), and Blessed Muzarewetu (35), who tend to his needs 24 hours a day. They work in eight-hour shifts.

Despite all the changes and challenges, Van der Westhuizen remains upbeat and positive: 'Under the circumstances, I can honestly say it is going great.'

'I still pray for other sick people, because miracles can happen.'

*This article appeared in Huisgenoot.

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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Mariette Adams