Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia on Monday announced that she will not be seeking re-election after her diagnosis of a rare neurological disorder that has no cure.
Prior to the announcement that she has progressive supranuclear palsy, she sat for an interview with The Washington Post.
In the course of the interview, Wexton spoke to a friend, telling her, “It’s OK.”
Then she offered a different comment. “It’s not OK. It’s not OK at all … I’m going to die, which isn’t fair,” the 55-year-old congresswoman said.
She said that after her diagnosis this summer that ruled earlier assumptions she had Parkinson’s disease were wrong, she asked her doctor, “Can I still run for re-election?”
His reply, as Wexton recalled it, was, “Why would you want to?”
In a text to the Post, she noted that her thinking changed.
“But what became clear was that not only would I not be able to handle the rigors of campaigning in a tough district (hours of daily call time! Campaign rallies! Trackers and attack ads!) even if I could it may have literally killed me. And my life is definitely too short for that!” Wexton wrote.
During the interview, she noted how the disease has impacted her.
“It’s hard for me to speak in a way that people can understand and that they want to listen to … I hate the way I sound now. I always have to think about slowing down and enunciating,” the congresswoman 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,” she said.
Wexton announced her decision in a post on X.
“When I shared with the world my diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease a few months ago, I knew that the road ahead would have its challenges, and I’ve worked hard to navigate those challenges through consistent treatments and therapies,” she wrote. “But 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 Supra-nuclear Palsy – a kind of ‘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.
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community. 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.
“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.”
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) September 18, 2023
According to the National Institutes of Health, progressive supranuclear palsy is “a rare neurological disorder that affects body movements, walking and balance, and eye movements.”
“The disease usually worsens rapidly and most people with PSP develop severe disability within three to five years of symptom onset. PSP can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, choking, or head injuries from falls,” the NIH said.
The agency noted there is no treatment or cure for the disease.