Democratic U.S. congresswoman from Virginia Jennifer Wexton, 55, announced on Monday she won’t seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of a form of progressive Parkinson’s Disease.
Rep. Wexton currently represents Virginia’s 10th congressional district, which is a competitive area encompassing highly wealthy Washington, D.C. suburb communities like Loudon County and Fairfax County.
The Monday announcement follows Wexton revealing in April that she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s but was planning to continue serving in Congress.
Now that she has an updated diagnosis with a more severe prognosis, she is stepping aside.
Progressive supra-nuclear palsy is a form of ‘Parkinson’s on steroids,’ Wexton described in her statement on the devastating diagnosis.
Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton will not run for reelection after finding out her new diagnosis of ‘Parkinson’s on steroids’
The congresswoman released a statement Monday describing her diagnosis and decision to retire from the House after serving out her term to the end of 2024
‘I want to be honest with you now – this new diagnosis is a tough one,’ Wexton said in her statement, which was posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. ‘There is no `getting better´ with PSP. I’ll continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don’t work as well.’
Speaking with the Washington Post, Wexton said: ‘People I know know I’ve struggled for a long time. I’ll be able to relax and enjoy the time I have left and the time I have left in Congress.’
When speaking toward longtime confidante and chief of staff Abigail Carter, Wexton assured her that she wants to tell her story on her terms.
‘It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all,’ she said of the diagnosis. ‘I’m going to die, which isn’t fair.’
Wexton asked her doctor, according to the report, ‘Can I still run for reelection?’ as they looked at the brain scan.
‘Why would you want to?’ the doctor replied.
Wexton will serve her term through 2024, but noted in her statement: ‘I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,’ she said.
The Virginia congresswoman was seeking more answers from her doctors after realizing she wasn’t responding well to treatment and found she was having different experiences than the women in her Parkinson’s support group.
Assuming office in 2019, Wexton won the midterm House election against Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock with 56 percent of the vote. In 2022 she won her second reelection with 53 percent of the vote.
An open seat in Virginia 10 could set up a competitive race in a district that became slightly more conservative in the last redistricting, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
With a closely split congress, the race in 2024 could have implications for the party control.
Pictured: Wexton, as a congressional candidates, shares donuts at a really with voters alongside then-Senate candidate Tim Kaine (center) and former President Barack Obama (left)
Progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, is a disorder in a family of neurological conditions called atypical parkinsonism. It affects body movements, walking and balance.
People diagnosed with PSP often die from the disease six to nine years after their diagnosis, with symptoms worsening over time.
Symptoms of PSP can resemble those of Parkinson’s Disease and the condition may initially be misdiagnosed, which occurred in Ms Wexton’s case.
However, it is different from Parkinson’s in that it usually begins later in a person’s life during their mid- to late-60s and worsens quickly. People with PSP develop severe disability three to five years after symptoms appear.
Wexton is 55 – so she was diagnosed and experiencing symptoms a bit earlier than typical.
Problems with speech and swallowing are much more common and severe in PSP patients compared to those with Parkinson’s. It is rare, however, for PSP patients to develop a tremor, a major hallmark sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
PSP symptoms can include difficulty controlling eyes and eyelids, loss of balance, slurred speech, difficulty walking or swallowing, changes in judgment, forgetfulness, personality changes and difficulty finding words.
The condition can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, choking or head injuries from falls. Aspiration pneumonia, when food or liquid is breathed into the airways or lungs instead of being swallowed, is the most common cause of death in people with PSP.
People with the condition also have a higher risk of falls and head trauma that could lead to death.
Some treatments that can be successful in symptom management for Parkinson’s patients often fail in PSP patients.
There is currently no cure for the condition and there are no treatments to reverse or stop PSP.