Rep. Jennifer Wexton Announces Rare Neurological Disorder Diagnosis
Representative Jennifer Wexton, Democrat of Virginia, announced on Monday that she would not seek re-election next year after receiving a diagnosis of a rare neurological disorder.
Ms. Wexton, 55, who represents a competitive district in the Virginia suburbs west of Washington, D.C., revealed in a statement that she has progressive supranuclear palsy, which she described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said.
Ms. Wexton was elected to represent Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in 2018, defeating a two-term Republican incumbent, Barbara Comstock, by 12 percentage points.
In April, Ms. Wexton announced that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, saying at the time that it would not stop her from continuing to live her life, or pursuing her political career.
“I’m doing well, and I want to bring about as much good from this diagnosis as I can — including here in Congress,” Ms. Wexton wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
However, she wrote in her statement on Monday that she had noticed that people in her Parkinson’s support group weren’t having the same experience she was, and that she wasn’t making as much progress as she had hoped. She sought out other medical opinions and testing, which she said had led to her new diagnosis.
Ms. Wexton said she planned to serve out the remainder of her term.
“While my time in Congress will soon come to a close,” Ms. Wexton said, “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.”
What is progressive supranuclear palsy?
It is not uncommon for people with progressive supranuclear palsy, also known as P.S.P., to be misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s, as Ms. Wexton was. The two disorders share many symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, and speech and balance issues.
P.S.P. is caused by damage to nerve cells in areas of the brain that control thinking and body movement. It affects walking and balance as well as eye movement, and progresses more rapidly than Parkinson’s. There is currently no treatment that effectively stops or slows the disorder’s progression or symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Symptoms typically appear when a person is in their mid-to-late 60s, later than when Parkinson’s symptoms usually start. Most people with P.S.P. develop severe disability within three to five years of the onset of symptoms, and may experience serious complications such as pneumonia, choking or the risk of head injuries from falls. It can also cause changes in behavior, such as forgetfulness and increased irritability.
Given the nature of the disorder, Ms. Wexton said she wanted to spend her “valued time” with her friends and loved ones, including her husband and two sons.
Her diagnosis has political implications for 2024.
When Ms. Wexton won in 2018, she flipped her Northern Virginia district from red to blue, part of an anti-Trump wave that led to Democrats regaining control of the House. She came into Congress along with two other Democratic women who had flipped seats in Virginia, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria.
While Ms. Luria lost her race for re-election last year, Ms. Wexton won her third term by six points. But Ms. Wexton’s district, one of the wealthiest in the country, remains competitive, and is likely to be even more so without an incumbent running for the seat.
Ms. Wexton’s decision not to run again leaves Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the House, with an opportunity to pick up a seat in the 2024 election, when Democrats will be angling to win back control of the chamber.
Annie Karni contributed reporting.
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