Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson announced Wednesday he will be resigning from his Senate seat at the end of the year. Isakson has been battling Parkinson's disease and cited health challenges for why he's stepping aside with three years left in his current term.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the senator said it's been "the honor of a lifetime" to serve the residents of Georgia.

"After much prayer and consultation with my family and doctors, I have made the very tough decision to leave the U.S. Senate at the end of 2019. It has been the honor of a lifetime serving the state of Georgia. This decision pains me greatly but I know it is the right thing to do."

Isakson, 74, was reelected to a third term in 2016.

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a interim senator to serve through the end of next year. The seat will then be subject to a special election in 2020, and the winner would then have to run again in 2022 for a full six-year Senate term.

"Senator Isakson's list of accomplishments on behalf of the state that he loves is long and revered," Kemp said in a statement, "but what Georgia should be most thankful for is the high standard that Johnny held as a true gentleman, a fighter for his constituents, a trusted advocate for our nation's veterans, and one of the greatest statesmen to ever answer the call of service to our country."

In recent years, Democrats have been making strides in typically deep-red Georgia. Last year Democrat Stacey Abrams lost by a razor-thin margin to Kemp in the gubernatorial election in 2018.

For some, Isakson's retirement lead to near-instant speculation that Abrams might make a run at the soon-to-be-open Senate seat. But she quickly knocked down those pinning hopes on her candidacy.

She said on her official Twitter account: "Our thoughts are with Senator Isakson and his family ... While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both senate races next year."

Last month, Isakson was hospitalized after falling in his Washington, D.C., residence, where he suffered four fractured ribs and a torn rotator cuff.

On Monday, according to his office, Isakson had surgery to remove a "2-centifmenter renal cell carcinoma from his kidneys."

In a fuller statement posted to his Senate website, Isakson said his health challenges were "taking their toll" on him and and his family.

"My Parkinson's has been progressing, and I am continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July. In addition, this week I had surgery to remove a growth on my kidney," Isakson said.

"I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve. It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it's the right thing to do on behalf of my state."

Isackson said in a statement he is looking forward to returning to Washington next month when the Senate comes back from the August recess. He also said he had informed Gov. Kemp that his last day serving in the Senate will be Dec. 31.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit