Norwood Reveals Lung Ailment

Posted September 7, 2004 at 6:35pm

In a surprise announcement, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) said Tuesday that he is awaiting a lung transplant, a situation that will not cause Norwood to miss any work in the near term but will prevent him from leaving the Washington area until he receives a new lung.

The 63-year-old lawmaker was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 1998. Though he did not publicize his condition before Tuesday, Norwood has been on the transplant list since that diagnosis. However, he was not considered a prime candidate for the first several years because his health was still relatively good.

Norwood spokesman Duke Hipp said his boss does not plan to miss any votes or other official duties while he awaits the transplant.

“He is here and he is working,” Hipp said.

Because a suitable donor could be found at any moment, Norwood will not be able to travel back to Georgia or anywhere else located more than three hours from Washington until the transplant is complete. The surgery would take place at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va.

If a suitable organ is found and a transplant is undertaken, Norwood would have to spend two or three weeks in the hospital and a total of three months away from his normal work on the Hill, the lawmaker said in a statement. He will still run for re-election in November despite the announcement.

Norwood wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to receive a new lung and resume his Congressional duties. Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) underwent a double lung transplant in 1988 and served 13 more years in the House before dying in 2001 from complications following brain surgery.

Before the transplant, Spence brought a portable oxygen tank around with him to assist his breathing. Norwood will use a similar device.

In 1995, Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.) received a liver transplant and spent six more years in the House. He died of leukemia in 2001.

According to the American Lung Association, “idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis” refers to a lung disease of unknown origin. Various theories have suggested that the cause of IPF could be viral illness, allergies or exposure to tobacco smoke. The most common symptom of the disease is shortness of breath.

Norwood, a dentist before he was elected to the House in 1994, does not smoke. He is a candidate to take over the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health in the 109th Congress.

Businessman Bob Ellis (D) is on the November ballot opposing Norwood, but the incumbent is considered a virtual shoo-in because the 9th district is heavily Republican.

Hipp said the lawmaker “is looking forward to getting this over with and hitting the campaign trail.”