Sharon Runner discloses lung condition, will finish term

Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, disclosed on Tuesday that she has a rare health condition and is seeking a lung transplant. Her husband, Sen. George Runner, R-Antelope, has said he is dropping plans to seek the leadership of Senate Republicans, saying helping his wife recover takes is a "higher priority."

Runner was diagnosed with limited scleroderma, also known as CREST syndrome, 20 years ago. About 300,000 people nationwide have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder, 80 percent of them women. Scleroderma causes inflammation and scarring on connective tissue; serious cases can be fatal. The disease is not hereditary, and doctors don't know what causes it.

Runner said she had suffered only minor symptoms until the summer of 2006. The Runners were vacationing at their cabin near Lake Tahoe when she experienced shortness of breath. The symptoms popped up again that fall when the pair visited the former Soviet Union and had to climb a lot of stairs due to a shortage of working elevators.

"I just thought I was out of shape," Runner said.

By last spring she was taking large doses of prednisone, a steroid often used to counter inflammation. The drug caused her to gain weight and resulted in a "moon face and a buffalo hump," she said. More recently, she had gotten on a new drug regime and gone back to her normal weight. But then the normal "Capitol cold" that many people get every January turned into full-blown pneumonia.

After more doctor visits revealed scarring on her lungs, Runner decided to get on the transplant list. She expects to wait a year or less for a donor who matches her height, weight and blood type. At some point, she said, she'll get a call and a plane will fly her down to the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.

UCLA performed the first lung transplant on a scleroderma patient four years ago; so far, patients have not suffered damage to their donor lungs.

After a transplant, Runner would be on a lifelong regime of anti-rejection medication, but she notes that she already takes 20 pills a day. (George Runner's Senate insurance through Blue Cross will cover the transplant surgery.)

Runner decided to come forward with her condition after Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, wished her well during an Assembly session, prompting rumors about her health. She said she will be able to finish her sixth and final year in the Assembly and has no current plans to seek other office.

"To take on my husband was kind of the only option, Runner versus Runner in 2008," Runner joked, noting that George Runner is up for re-election this year. "I've got him pretty well trained after 35 years. I think I'll keep my husband."

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