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Congressman Andy Barr introduces CAROL Act to honor late wife, fight valvular heart disease

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 18:17:28-05

(LEX 18) — February is American Heart Month and one of Kentucky's congressmen is using it to remember his late wife.

On Monday, Congressman Barr introduced the Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act. It's to bring attention to valvular heart disease while honoring his late wife, Carol, who died of floppy valve syndrome last year.

Pictures tell the story of Andy and Carol Barr. Their last family picture was taken in June of 2020.

U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) pictured above with his wife Carol Barr and two daughters, Eleanor (left) and Mary Clay (right).

"We were out on a horse farm, it was a beautiful day, we were having a great day," said Barr. "We hadn't been together that long. she looked beautiful that day. It was a terrific, terrific time together, the last time together as a family."

Less than 24 hours later, Congressman Barr's wife collapsed and died in their Lexington home, succumbing to mitral valve prolapse, the heart condition she'd been told since 7th grade was "no big deal."

Congressman Barr was left to raise their two daughters, just 9 and 7, right in the middle of a tense and demanding campaign. Barr said he even thought about dropping out of the race.

Rep. Andy Barr says he considered dropping out of congressional race after wife's death

"What was it like to carry on without that person, that cheerleader, without that support by your side?" asked LEX 18's Nancy Cox.

"It was hard, really hard," said Barr. "She was my number one supporter, she really was. She did everything for me."

Roughly ten weeks after Carol's sudden death, candidate Andy Barr re-emerged, first with a "thank you."

"There was so much of an outpouring of sympathy and love from the community, I felt it was only appropriate to just thank everyone for caring for us during our time of grief and to remember carol," said Barr.

Barr's next ad, he says, was in response to his opponent's claim that he didn't care about people with pre-existing conditions. He again, featured Carol, referencing her condition and death, something that was criticized in some political circles.

"It really was offensive to me for someone to say I didn't care about pre-existing conditions, that was so offensive," said Barr. "I wanted to communicate in a very personal and empathetic way that I understand and I care. This has been a tough year for Americans, a really tough year. A lot of Americans have lost loved ones, so we are not alone. It's important, I think, to recognize other families have faced these tragedies, so it's given me a lot of empathy."

That concern is what Barr says is driving his next piece of legislation. The CAROL Act, aimed specifically at researching heart valve disease.

Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) is fairly common in men and women but only 0.2% of them die from it. The problem is there are no risk factors identified and no way to know when it might be fatal.

The CAROL Act would form a coalition of researchers to answer those questions and to launch an awareness campaign to help another family avoid tragedy. It's endorsed by the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and has a Democrat co-sponsor, Kathleen Rice, of New York.

"I really feel like we're gonna make a difference with this," said Barr. "It has bipartisan support, we're gonna pass this bill and it's gonna save lives."

'Pay attention to your health': Rep. Andy Barr's message to young families after wife's death

Keeping other families whole, making the CAROL Act part of a lasting legacy.

"She was a very devoted mother, she was a great mom," said Barr. "And that's her greatest legacy... she lit up a room. Her girls will do that too, and people will be reminded of their mother when they see that."