Rob Burrow was guest of honour as work started to clear the site where a new motor neurone disease (MND) care centre will be built in honour of the rugby league legend.
The Old Matron’s House, a former nurse’s block at Seacroft Hospital, Leeds, will be demolished to make way for the specialist facility.
Speaking through a computer, Burrow, who had MND, said: "I'm very excited about the plans for the MND care centre. To be here today to see the potential site is fantastic."
He added: "The centre will make a real difference to the lives of people diagnosed with MND today and in the future."
The centre will be funded by the Leeds Hospitals Charity, which has been raising money in honour of the ex-Leeds Rhinos player, who was diagnosed with MND at the age of 37. It would be the first of its kind in Europe.
The fundraising campaign was given a huge boost last week, when Burrow's former teammate Kevin Sinfield raised more than £2million by running seven ultra marathons in seven days.
But Leeds Hospitals Charity chief executive Esther Wakeman said the £5million needed before building work could start has yet to be raised. The total currently sits at over £3million.
Ms Wakeman said: "We’re hugely grateful to everyone who supported Kevin Sinfield on his ultra challenge last week and we are now closer to our fundraising target. This is an incredible effort. However, we’ve still got a way to go.
"If anyone has been inspired by Kevin’s recent efforts, there’s still time to run the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon or Half Marathon next May and raise funds directly for the centre."
MND is a degenerative and life-shortening brain disease which reduces the sufferer's ability to control and move their body. There is currently no cure.
Burrow was diagnosed in 2019.
He is now dependent on a wheelchair, able to communicate only through an eye-driven communication device and is cared for full-time by his wife, Lindsey.
He has continued to campaign, along with Sinfield, to raise awareness of the disease and is spearheading the fundraising campaign for the MND centre.
He said: "I think it's great that we're starting to put a hole in the ground, I think there's a lot of work to be done, there's further funds needed to ensure it is what it should be and is a representation of Rob and the love and care he wants to provide in that building."
The bespoke centre will give patients access to a range of support tailored to their needs, from speech and language therapy, to diet and nutrition advice, and physiotherapy.
There are currently around 80 people being treated for the disease in Leeds.