U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-4th, has shed more than 60 pounds the hard way, as the first-term congressman deals with a temporary medical condition that he expects to cure with surgery.
“I will be healthy,” he said Friday after hosting a roundtable discussion on environmental infrastructure with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and more than a dozen state and local elected officials and advocates.
McEachin, who will turn 57 on Wednesday, said he has lost weight because of a fistula — a cavity that his doctor says is “an abnormal connection between the bladder and colon” — as well as an exercise regimen that includes walking about 10 miles a week across Capitol Hill in Washington.
“As a child you learn, you get sick, you get well, you move on,” he said in an interview after the event with Pelosi at The Boathouse restaurant at Rocketts Landing on Friday. “I’ve gotten sick, I’m getting well, and by God’s grace, I’ll move on.”
Dr. Brian P. Monahan, attending physician for members of Congress who retain him, confirmed the diagnosis in a letter to McEachin over the weekend to document his condition.
Monahan said the fistula developed as a complication of McEachin’s successful treatment for rectal cancer in 2014 — a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
The congressman, who said he remains free of cancer, discovered the condition in July after developing an infection in his urinary tract.
“You subsequently completed a very extensive evaluation,” the doctor recounted. “This led to the localization of the abnormal intestinal connection.”
“While antibiotics have controlled the infection, you now require an abdominal surgery,” Monahan said. “This surgery will temporarily divert the intestinal flow away from the lower colon to allow the abnormal connection to heal permanently.”
The doctor noted that McEachin had “completed a thorough examination of the surrounding tissues with a team of nephrologists, surgeons and urologists” who will perform the surgery at an unspecified date.
He underwent a related surgical procedure in late August that required him to stay in the hospital “a few days,” according to a statement by his campaign.
McEachin, who is 6-foot-5, estimated that he weighed well over 300 pounds when he was sworn in for his first term as congressman on Jan. 3, 2017.
Now, he weighs 245 pounds and looks different than he did during a long political career in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate. He said the fistula has made eating so uncomfortable that he lost his appetite — and weight.
“I have zero desire to regain the weight,” he said.
McEachin said the condition has not diminished his ability to perform his duties in Congress or campaign for a second term. He is opposed by Republican Ryan McAdams in the midterm elections on Nov. 6.
He was first elected to Congress in 2016, after a federal court reshaped the 4th District the previous year. The court redrew the district after finding that legislators had unconstitutionally packed African-American voters into the adjoining 3rd Congressional District represented by Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat. In redrawing the 3rd District, the court made significant changes to the 4th and lesser changes to the 7th, 1st and 2nd districts.
In his letter to the congressman on Saturday, Monahan said, “You have been able to maintain an active professional and personal life without restrictions. My expectation for you is to continue this level of function following recovery from the planned surgery.”
McEachin said regular walking between the Capitol and his congressional office in the Cannon House Office Building has “helped with my condition.”
“I started off not being able to keep up with John Lewis,” he joked, referring to Rep. John R. Lewis, 78, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon who has served in the House of Representatives for more than 30 years.
“Now, I can keep up with John Lewis.”