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Virginia's Rep. Jennifer Wexton won't seek re-election after new diagnosis

UPI
Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., announced Monday she will retire at the end of her current term after it was determined she is suffering from a rare neurological disorder. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Jennifer Wexton, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia, announced Monday she will not seek re-election after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

Wexton, who was first elected representative of Virginia's 10th congressional district in 2018, said she reached the "heartbreaking" decision to step down following the completion of her current term when it became apparent that she was not suffering from Parkinson's disease as first believed but rather progressive supranuclear palsy, an uncurable brain disorder.

After her initial diagnosis in April, Wexton announced she intended to keep serving "for many years to come" and would use her platform in Congress to raise awareness of Parkinson's.

However, when her symptoms didn't appear to be responding to treatment, she become concerned.

"I sought out additional medical opinions and testing, and my doctors modified my diagnosis to progressive supranuclear palsy -- a kind of 'Parkinson's on steroids,'" Wexton said in a statement issued Monday.

"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."

The reality of her condition, she said, prompted her decision to retire from office and spend as much time as possible with her husband, Andrew, their sons, friends and family.

"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," Wexton said, adding that she will "forever cherish the people from our communities and all around the country I've come to know, the challenges we've faced together, and the ways both big and small that my team and I have made a difference in the lives of our neighbors."

Progressive supranuclear palsy is frequently misdiagnosed as Parkinson's and causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movements, and later with swallowing, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The condition worsens over time and can lead to life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and swallowing problems.

Wexton, 55, won office five years ago in a district that includes suburban Washington, D.C., ending 40 years of GOP control with her victory. She is particularly well known as a harsh critic of former President Donald Trump and an advocate for LGBTQ rights who displayed a transgender pride flag outside of her office.

Colleagues voiced sympathy and support for her decision.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Wexton has "served Virginians with dignity and strength. I'm heartbroken that she won't run again as she makes the difficult but brave decision to focus on her health. We're all standing with Jennifer through this season."

Her decision to step down creates an open House seat in which Democrats may be vulnerable, according to some political analysts.