Virginia Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, 55, announced Monday that she would not run for re-election after being diagnosed with a form of progressive Parkinson’s disease.
Representative Wexton currently represents Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, a competitive district that includes affluent suburban communities in Washington, DC, such as Loudon County and Fairfax County.
Monday’s announcement follows Wexton announcing in April that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s but planned to continue serving in Congress.
Now that she has an updated diagnosis with a more serious prognosis, she is stepping down.
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a form of “Parkinson’s disease on steroids,” Wexton described in her statement about the devastating diagnosis.
Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton will not run for re-election after learning of her new diagnosis of “Parkinson’s on steroids.”
The congresswoman released a statement Monday describing her diagnosis and her decision to step down from the House of Representatives after her term expires at the end of 2024
“I want to be honest with you now – this new diagnosis is a difficult one,” Wexton said in her statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “There is no such thing as ‘getting better’ with PSP. I will continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they are not working as well.”
In conversation with the Washington PostWexton said: “People I know know I’ve had problems for a long time. “I’m going to be able to relax and enjoy the time I have left and the time I have left in Congress.”
When Wexton spoke to longtime confidant and chief of staff Abigail Carter, she assured her that she wanted to tell her story on her own terms.
‘That is not OK. “It’s not okay at all,” she said of the diagnosis. “I’m going to die, which isn’t fair.”
According to the report, Wexton asked her doctor, “Can I still run for re-election?” as they looked at the brain scan.
“Why would you want that?” replied the doctor.
Wexton will serve her term through 2024, but noted in her statement: “It breaks my heart to have to give up something I loved after serving my community for so many years,” she said.
The Virginia congresswoman sought more answers from her doctors after discovering she wasn’t responding well to treatment and realized she was having a different experience than the women in her Parkinson’s support group.
When he took office in 2019, Wexton won the House midterm elections with 56 percent of the vote against Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock. In 2022 she won her second re-election with 53 percent of the vote.
An open seat in Virginia 10 could lead to a contest 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 divided Congress, the 2024 race could have implications for party control.
Pictured: As a congressional candidate, Wexton shares donuts with voters at a press conference alongside then-Senate candidate Tim Kaine (center) and former President Barack Obama (left).
Progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, is a disorder from a family of neurological disorders called atypical parkinsonism. It affects body movements, walking and balance.
People diagnosed with PSP often die from the disease six to nine years after diagnosis, with symptoms worsening over time.
The symptoms of PSP can be similar to those of Parkinson’s disease and the condition can initially be misdiagnosed, which was the case in Ms Wexton’s case.
The difference with Parkinson’s disease, however, is that the disease usually begins later in a person’s life, in their mid to late 60s, and rapidly worsens. People with PSP develop severe disability three to five years after symptoms appear.
Wexton is 55 – so she was diagnosed and the symptoms appeared a little earlier than usual.
Speech and swallowing problems are far more common and severe in PSP patients than in Parkinson’s patients. However, it is rare for PSP patients to develop tremor, an important characteristic sign of Parkinson’s disease.
PSP symptoms may include difficulty controlling eyes and eyelids, loss of balance, slurred speech, difficulty walking or swallowing, altered judgment, forgetfulness, personality changes, and difficulty finding words.
The condition can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, suffocation or head injuries from falls. Aspiration pneumonia, where food or liquid is inhaled into the airways or lungs rather than swallowed, is the leading cause of death in people with PSP.
People with this condition also have a higher risk of falls and head injuries, which can result in death.
Some treatments that may be successful in treating symptoms in 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.