I know I’m quite late on this story but I felt it was important to publish it anyway. Slightly more than a month ago, some tragic news hit the Utah State government.

Image/ National Atlas of the United States
Image/ National Atlas of the United States

The Beehive State lost their first female Speaker of the House of Representatives to a 100 percent fatal prion disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

According to to Salt Lake Tribune on Jan. 17, 46-year-old Becky Lockhart lost her short battle with the deadly disease.

Apparently, Lockhart was dealing with some symptoms in her head around the time of Thanksgiving last year–vertigo, or dizziness, which was thought to be an inner-ear infection.

She died at home on Jan. 17.

A number of Utah politicians chimed in on the tragic death of Lockhart, here are some of the key figures in Utah politics:

The senior US Senator of Utah, Orrin Hatch said, “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Becky Lockhart, a remarkable woman who faithfully served her family, her community, and the State of Utah, Hatch said.

“Becky was a true trailblazer in serving as Utah’s first female Speaker of the House, where she was widely admired  for her legislative and leadership skills, and stood as an example to rising generations of Utah women.  She was a dedicated public servant and passionate advocate for many causes, always rising to meet our State’s challenges with strength and wisdom.  Elaine and I send our deepest sympathies to her devoted husband, Stan, and their children Hannah, Emily and Steven.  Becky’s life will serve as a testament of service, dedication, and love.”

Utah’s Governor, Gary R. Herbert said, “I have known and been a friend of the Lockhart family for 25 years and I am terribly saddened by the news of Becky’s sudden and unexpected passing.

“Speaker Lockhart was a tremendous public servant who spent more than a decade and a half in the Utah House of Representatives and she made history as Utah’s first female House Speaker. While she was first and foremost a wonderful wife and mother, she was also a remarkable role model, particularly to the untold numbers of women who were inspired by her example to be involved in public service. The state of Utah is a better place because of the service and sacrifice of Stan and Becky Lockhart.

“Jeanette and I join with all Utahns in expressing our deepest sympathies to the Lockhart family and we are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Finally, the man who took over the Speakership upon Lockhart’s passing,Greg Hughes said, “Utah lost one of its finest today. I’m heartbroken for Stan and the Lockhart family. Few in this state will ever fully appreciate Becky Lockhart’s efforts on behalf of the citizens of Utah. Her unwavering commitment to Utah’s school children, economic development and the bolstering of Utah’s transportation infrastructure will be felt for generations.

While it is hard to understand how someone so good and so young could be taken from us, we can cherish the experiences and associations we had with Becky. She was a great leader and a dear friend and she will be deeply missed.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Classic CJD is a human prion disease. It is a neurodegenerative disorder with characteristic clinical and diagnostic features. This disease is rapidly progressive and always fatal. Infection with this disease leads to death usually within 1 year of onset of illness.

Classic CJD has been recognized since the early 1920s. The most common form of classic CJD is believed to occur sporadically, caused by the spontaneous transformation of normal prion proteins into abnormal prions. This sporadic disease occurs worldwide, including the United States, at a rate of roughly one case per 1 million population per year, although rates of up to two cases per million are not unusual.

In the United States this translates to 250-300 new cases per year.

The risk of CJD is higher in older persons; in those 60 years of age and older, the average annual rate has been approximately 4.6 cases per million.

Whereas the majority of cases of CJD (about 85%) occur as sporadic disease, a smaller proportion of patients (5-15%) develop CJD because of inherited mutations of the prion protein gene. These inherited forms include Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome and fatal familial insomnia.

To learn more about CJD and other prion diseases, or to help or find support– visit the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation