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Ailing Norwood Heading to Hospice

Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), who has been hospitalized as he battles complications from a debilitating lung disease and lung cancer, has decided to forgo further medical treatment in Washington, D.C., and will return to his Augusta home for hospice care.

A statement released Wednesday by the seven-term Congressman’s office said that Norwood will leave Georgetown University Medical Center, where he was transferred last week, as soon as an air ambulance flight to Georgia can be arranged. Norwood had been receiving chemotherapy treatments since last fall that have caused him to become extremely ill.

“He’s really throwing in the towel on the traditional hospital treatment and he’s just going to go home,” said Norwood spokesman John Stone.

Although Norwood is leaving Washington, Stone said he does not intend to resign his 10th district seat.

“He’s just been sick as a dog since November battling this thing,” Stone said, adding that his boss is looking forward to returning to his own bed, his La-Z-Boy and his wife’s cooking.

While those close to Norwood continue to dismiss any talk that he might resign, the Congressman’s ailing health has led to subtle, and not so subtle, speculation back in his Northeastern Georgia district about who is interested in succeeding Norwood should he not seek another term in 2008.

Norwood, 65, was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 1998. The condition causes scarring in a person’s lungs. There is no cure and the only treatment available is a lung transplant.

Norwood underwent a single lung transplant in October 2004. The immune system-suppressing drugs the Congressman took following the transplant made him more prone to developing lung cancer, and in November 2005 he had a small malignant tumor removed from his nontransplanted lung.

Stone said Norwood felt good for much of 2006 — he visited Iraq and also played a major role in the House debate over reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act last summer.

But in November, doctors discovered that the non-small-cell lung cancer had spread to his liver and metastasized. He has been undergoing chemotherapy since that time and has remained hospitalized almost since the start of the 110th Congress.

Norwood had received treatments at Inova Fairfax and Inova Mount Vernon hospitals, but was transferred to Georgetown last week, where he was evaluated for Cyberknife laser surgery to remove the tumor in his liver. He declined to have the procedure.

On the political front, Republican state Reps. Barry Fleming and Ben Harbin and former state Sen. Brian Kemp (R) are mentioned as possible candidates to succeed Norwood.

Harbin is the chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee and may not want to relinquish that perch.

In his early 40s, Kemp has been viewed as one of the brightest rising stars in Georgia GOP circles and his political career appears far from over despite his unsuccessful primary bid for state Agriculture Commissioner in 2006. In the state Senate he represented a Democratic-leaning district in Athens, which could also not translate well into winning a Congressional primary.

The district is anchored by Augusta and Athens, a liberal bastion that includes the University of Georgia. Although Athens was put back into the district when GOP legislators redrew district lines in 2005, the 10th still heavily favors Republicans, and the Democrats are not likely to mount a serious challenge if there is a vacancy.

While Norwood has missed nearly all floor votes since the 110th Congress convened on Jan. 4, Stone said that Norwood has continued to direct his staff and has been involved in legislative discussions “and will continue to now, for as long as the good Lord sees fit to let him.”

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