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Virgin River Season 5: What Is Huntington's Disease & What Does It Mean For Denny?

Contains spoilers for "Virgin River" Season 5, Episode 1 — "A Second Chance"

Every character on "Virgin River" seems to harbor a serious secret in the depths of their hearts. Paige Lassiter (Lexa Doig) accidentally kills her ex, Mel Monroe's (Alexandra Breckenridge) husband dies in a tragic car accident, and all of Denny Cutler's (Kai Bradbury) loved ones discover that he's been diagnosed with Huntington's disease. Denny copes as best he can with this development but worries that the news will put an end to his relationship with Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale). Yet she ultimately defies any semblance of fear of losing him and kisses him before he can push her away, reconfirming her commitment to their relationship.

According to Mayo Clinic, Huntington's disease is a hereditary degenerative illness that attacks nerve cells in the brain and can affect everything from behavior to motor function to mental abilities. Adding extra tragedy to Lizzie and Denny's romance, Huntington's disease is treatable for a time but ultimately incurable. The disease progresses at varying rates, but no matter how slow a patient's decline, it often leads to death.

Denny's condition affects thousands of Americans

Denny's case is somewhat unusual among Huntington's patients; most of the time, the onset of symptoms begins anywhere between the ages of 30 and 50. Since Denny developed the disease as a teenager, he has what's called juvenile Huntington's disease, which often results in a more rapid decline and a different pattern of symptoms.

His fictional case reflects a true picture of hope, fear, and determination. According to UCSF Health, one out of every 10,000 to 20,000 Americans will be affected by Huntington's disease in their lifetime. Meanwhile, a March 2019 report, "Rare Disease Clinical Research: Untapped potential in MENA," suggests that 2.7 in 100,000 people worldwide eventually develop the disease.

Denny's diagnosis is a tough one, and it means that his romance with Lizzie now contains an element of risk and uncertainty. But as on "Virgin River," so goes life; fans will have to wait and see if he survives, dies, or simply continues to cope with the hand fate has dealt him.