By Ryan King
Rep. Jennifer Wexton announced Monday she won’t vie for a fourth term in the House of Representatives after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.
Wexton (D-Va.) announced in April that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but intended to keep serving in Congress.
On Monday, however, the 55-year-old revealed that doctors had determined she actually suffers from the more serious progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which she called “a kind of ‘Parkinson’s on steroids.’”
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” Wexton said in a statement.
“I have made the decision not to seek re-election once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with [husband] Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”
Parkinson’s and PSP have similar early symptoms, leading to the latter being mistaken for the more common disorder. PSP can inhibit walking, eye movements, speech and more, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But PSP is said to worsen more rapidly than Parkinson’s and fewer treatment options are available. On average, PSP patients tend to survive between six and nine years, per the Cleveland Clinic.
“I’ve always believed that honesty is the most important value in public service, so I want to be honest with you now — this new diagnosis is a tough one,” the 55-year-old congresswoman added.
“There is no ‘getting better’ with PSP. I’ll continue my treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don’t work as well with my condition as they do for Parkinson’s.”
The Washington Post, recounting Wexton breaking the news to her chief of staff, reported that the congresswoman initially said “it’s OK” before changing her tone.
“It’s not OK. It’s not OK at all,” the lawmaker said, according to the outlet. “I’m going to die, which isn’t fair.”
Wexton, who represents Virginia’s 10th Congressional District covering the wealthy exurbs west of Washington, DC, was elected to Congress in 2018. She previously served in the Virginia Senate from January 2014.
She was inspired to run by her disdain for then-President Donald Trump and managed to dispatch then-incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in a “blue wave” year.
Shortly after entering Congress in January 2019, Wexton raised eyebrows by draping a transgender flag outside her office.
The Democrat previously told the Washington Post that she likely wouldn’t have run for high office if Trump weren’t in the White House.
In April, when she announced her initial Parkinson’s diagnosis, Wexton expressed hope she would be able to serve “for many years to come.”
“I wasn’t making the progress to manage my symptoms that I had hoped, and I noticed the women in my Parkinson’s support group weren’t having the same experience that I was. I sought out additional medical opinions and testing, and my doctors modified my diagnosis to progressive supranuclear palsy,” she explained Monday.
“While my time in Congress will soon come to a close, I’m just as confident and committed as ever to keep up the work that got me into this fight in the first place for my remaining time in office — to help build the future we want for our children,” she added.
With Wexton not running, Republicans will likely eye her seat as a pickup opportunity in 2024 after Republican Hung Cao came within 6.5 percentage points of unseating her last cycle.