Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) has announced that she will not seek reelection in 2024 after learning her medical condition is more severe than she previously thought.
Ms. Wexton, who has since 2019 represented Virginia’s 10th Congressional District that covers parts of northern Virginia, revealed in a video in April that she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
In a health update on Sept. 18, the 55-year-old congresswoman said that she has not made the progress she had hoped to achieve and sought out additional tests after noticing the women in her Parkinson’s support group weren’t having the same symptoms as her.
After seeking new diagnoses and medical opinions, doctors diagnosed her with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)—a rare neurological disorder she described as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”
“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. There is no ‘getting better’ with PSP. I’ll continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don’t work as well with my condition as they do for Parkinson’s,” Ms. Wexton said in a statement.
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she added. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones. ”
Ms. Wexton, a prosecutor and state legislator before being elected to Congress, defeated Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in 2018 to flip a House seat held by Republicans for decades and was reelected by a narrow margin during the 2022 midterms.
Her decision not to seek reelection could create an opportunity for Republicans to re-take the seat, without an incumbent Democrat in the race.
The seat could prove crucial as Republicans look to hold on to the narrow balance of power in the House they gained in the midterm elections and Democrats try to regain the majority.
“When I made the decision to run for Congress, this was clearly not the way I anticipated it coming to a close—but then again, pretty much nothing about my time serving here has quite been typical or as expected,” Ms. Wexton said. “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.
According to a description by the Mayo Clinic, progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare brain disorder that causes serious problems with body movements, a loss of balance while walking, and an inability to aim the eyes properly.
Other symptoms of the disease vary and may mimic those of Parkinson’s and dementia, the nonprofit noted. The symptoms generally get worse over time and may include stiffness, sleep disturbances, depression, swallowing problems, reasoning difficulties, and dizziness, just to name a few.
Although there is currently no cure that effectively stops the progression of PSP, there are a number of treatments available that can help ease symptoms, such as Parkinson’s disease medications, physical therapy, speech and swallowing evaluations, and other lifestyle adjustments.
In April, Ms. Wexton said while revealing she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s that the disease primarily impacted her speech and the way her mouth moves, adding that people may notice she speaks faster now.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as tremors or shakes, rigid limbs or muscle stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. As the disease progresses, people may also experience speech difficulties.
It is not clear what causes the disease, which impacts more than 8 million people across the globe according to the World Health Organization, but researchers believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors may play a role.
In the United States, where approximately 500,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the cost of treating the disease is estimated to be $14 billion annually.
Reuters contributed to this report.