Authorities believe Carol Barr, wife of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr, died suddenly at their home in Lexington on Tuesday evening as a result of an underlying heart condition.
Preliminary autopsy findings show that the 39-year-old mother-of-two had mitral valve prolapse (MVP), or floppy valve syndrome, the Fayette County coroner announced Wednesday afternoon.
MVP occurs when the valve between the heart’s upper and lower left chambers doesn’t close properly, causing blood to leak the wrong way through the unsealed – or ‘floppy’ – valve. The condition doesn’t normally cause any life-threatening issues, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The coroner who carried out the autopsy, Gary Ginn, told PEOPLE that his office responded to the Barrs’ home just before 7pm on Tuesday to find Carol dead in her home office.
Authorities believed Carol Barr (left), wife of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr, died suddenly at their home in Lexington on Tuesday evening as a result of an underlying heart condition
‘It was sad. We got a young mother that we don’t have a cause of death for. There’s no explanation for it at the scene. Obviously, an autopsy was necessary to determine the exact cause of death,’ Ginn told the outlet.
What is Floppy Valve Syndrome?
Floppy valve syndrome - or mitral valve prolapse (MVP) - occurs when the mitral valve between the heart’s upper and lower left chambers doesn’t close properly, causing blood to leak the wrong way through the floppy valve.
The mitral valve controls blood flow between the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart. The upper chamber is called the left atrium. The lower chamber is called the left ventricle.
In MVP, when the left ventricle contracts, one or both flaps of the mitral valve flop or bulge back into the left atrium. This can prevent the valve from forming a tight seal. As a result, blood may leak from the ventricle back into the atrium. The backflow of blood is called regurgitation.
It's rare for MVP to cause any life-threatening issues. The most common side effects are palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pain.
MVP also doesn't always cause a backflow of blood either. In fact, most people who have MVP don’t have backflow and never have any related symptoms or problems.
However, when backflow does occur, it can get worse over time and it can change the heart’s size and raise pressure in the left atrium and lungs. Backflow also raises the risk of heart valve infections.
Ginn added that he’s spoken with the Barr family and ‘they’re coping the best they possibly can.’
‘They’re all very together and trying to stay together,’ Ginn said.
Rep. Andy Barr, 49, who married Carol in 2008, spoke of his wife's death in a statement on Wednesday, calling this a time of 'tremendous grief and pain'.
'We ask for prayers for our beautiful, dear and precious Carol, the greatest, most selfless and giving wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend anyone could ever have,' Barr said in his Wednesday statement, released by his office.
'We also ask for love and prayers for Carol’s greatest legacy — her loving and devoted daughters Eleanor and Mary Clay — through whom Carol’s extraordinary life, high character and irrepressible spirit will continue,' he continued.
Barr, who is a Republican, has served as the US representative for Kentucky's 6th congressional district since 2013.
Carol grew up in Georgetown and went to the University of Kentucky where she majored in communications and information.
She was a healthcare representative for Pfizer, having previously worked as executive director for the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship.
Carol was also a member of the University of Kentucky College of Information National Advisory Board.
She leaves behind her husband, Andy Barr, as well as her two daughters, Eleanor and Mary Clay. Funeral arrangements are still pending.
Barr said Wednesday that his family's faith has helped them immensely as they attempt to confront their loss.
'In this moment of profound grief and heartbreak, we are so grateful for the gift and blessing of Carol’s life, for her strong faith in her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for the comfort of fond memories and her victory in heaven,' he said in his statement, 'and for all those who have surrounded Carol’s family, the girls and I with beautiful expressions of love, compassion and sympathy.'
Carol Barr is seen above in a family photo with her two daughters, Eleanor and Mary Clay, and husband Andy. The 39-year-old died at her family home in Lexington, a statement issued by Barr's chief of staff confirmed
Andy Barr is congratulated by wife Carol Barr after unseating Ben Chandler for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District in Lexington, Kentucky in November 2012
On Tuesday evening, a Fayette County coroner's van was seen outside the family home.
As news spread of Carol's death spread, dozens of tributes from Barr's colleagues began pouring in online.
US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said that Carol's 'warmth filled whatever room she entered and her contributions made Kentucky a better place for all of us.'
Barr, who is a Republican, has served as the US representative for Kentucky's 6th congressional district since 2013
Jim Gray, former mayor of Lexington and current Secretary of Transportation, described Carol as 'loving, caring and compassionate', adding: 'Her smile and spirit were irrepressible and her life represented devotion to family and friends and the broader community she embraced and touched each day.'
Governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear said he and his wife were 'heartbroken for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and his family tonight at the sad news of the unexpected passing of the congressman's wife, Carol. We are praying for the Barr family'.
Congressman Hal Rogers, who serves as US Representative for Kentucky's 5th District, said: 'Carol was always a joy to be around. She had a smile that lit up every room, radiating with the love she had for her family and our Commonwealth.
'Unexpected tragedies of this measure are difficult to understand, but we pray for peace and strength for the entire Barr family'.
The Kentucky State Majority also offered their thoughts and prayers to Barr and his family, in light of the 'unexpected and heartbreaking news' of Carol's death,
'We hope the people of Kentucky join us in praying for Congressman Barr, his two young daughters, their family and loved ones as they navigate this incredibly difficult time.'
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams shared on Twitter his memory of when Barr first told him about meeting Carol, whom he described as an 'extraordinary woman'.
'I remember the day years ago when my friend Andy Barr told me about the extraordinary woman he'd met, and how he thought she was the one,' Adams wrote. 'He was right on both. My heart breaks for Carol, Andy and their beautiful family.'
Rep. Andy Barr, 49, who married Carol in 2008, spoke of his wife's death in a statement on Wednesday, calling this a time of 'tremendous grief and pain'
US Senator Rand Paul wrote in a tweet that 'our hearts are heavy tonight' and that he and his wife 'offer our deepest condolences to Rep. Andy Barr, his two daughters, family, and friends.'
'Please join us in praying for them during this incredibly difficult time,' the junior senator from Kentucky said.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron also shared his 'heartbreak' to learn of Carol's passing.
'Carol was a wonderful mother and wife, and she was beloved by all who knew her,' Cameron said. 'She will be deeply missed. My heartfelt prayers are with Andy, their children, and their entire family as they mourn this unspeakable loss.'
Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath, who lost in a challenge to Barr in 2018 for Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District, wrote in a tweet that her 'heart goes out to Andy and his two daughters over the tragic loss of Carol.'
'They are in our prayers. While we were political competitors, we are Kentuckians first,' McGrath wrote. 'I hope they feel the love of many and we wish him great strength during this very trying time.'
Andy Barr is currently running for reelection in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional district. His likely opponent in the fall, Josh Hicks, called the death 'unimaginable'.
'While we may disagree politically, we’re both family men and I can’t fathom the pain he must be experiencing right now,' Hicks said.