LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Nearly 10 months since Congressman Andy Barr's wife Carol passed from a heart valve disease, Barr continues her legacy through policy, philanthropy and speaking from his heart.
Barr told LEX 18 his efforts are all about transforming "this unspeakable tragedy into something positive, something where we can make a difference in other people's lives, families who have loved ones who struggle with heart valve disease like Carol and maybe make a difference and save some lives."
Carol Barr died suddenly in June 2020 at 39 years old after living with mitral valve prolapse, a condition the American Heart Association explained is "the two valve flaps of the mitral valve" not closing "smoothly or evenly, but bulge (prolapse) upward into the left atrium. When the heart pumps, part of one or both flaps collapse backward into the left atrium, sometimes causing a small amount of blood to leak backward through the valve."
"We were always told with Carol's condition, mitral valve prolapse, that it was no big deal that we just needed to monitor it," explained Barr. "And for most people, it is benign. Only 0.2% of Americans who have mitral valve prolapse, suffer a sudden cardiac death like Carol did."
In February, Barr introduced the Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act.
"This is a bill that we've collaborated with the American Heart Association on the American College of Cardiology the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute," said Barr. "[It's] really going to supercharge our effort with the American Heart Association, to get more research grants to investigators, and doctors to learn, you know, why this mitral valve prolapse is life-threatening for some people, but not for others. And we need to give our cardiologists and our diagnostic physicians more tools to say okay this person we need to monitor a lot more closely and we need intervention and treatment earlier."
Thursday morning Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.
.@LeaderMcConnell delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor introducing @RepAndyBarr's Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act: https://t.co/uAslToi2kC Video: https://t.co/aZ6Qj1fQXg https://t.co/WHrPDxtFF1— Senator McConnell Press (@McConnellPress) April 15, 2021
"There's tons of momentum," said Barr, "everybody understands how important this is. And they understand that we've really collaborated with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the top cardiologists in the country. We're going to target this bill to research that is actually needed and make a difference."
Back in Central Kentucky, Barr started the Carol Barr Fund to further heart disease research and fund a STEM scholarship program for young women in partnership with the Central Kentucky American Heart Association.
"The Carol Barr fund is greatly enhancing our ability to hold these events and scholarship more deserving girls who are interested in STEM," said Central Kentucky 'Go Red' 2021 Chair Kathy Love. "This is really taking it up to a whole new level...we're focused very much in promoting STEM careers for girls in the region. And that's something that Carol was very passionate about, and we're just so pleased to have the supporters who are supporting the Carol Barr Fund in order to continue those opportunities for girls."
The Central Kentucky American Heart Association plans to honor Carol Barr on April 23 during their annual 'Go Red' luncheon where Congressman Barr will be the keynote speaker. Due to the pandemic, it is set to be a virtual event from noon to 1 p.m.
"Carol has been a longtime supporter of the Heart Association," explained Love, "She's always brought her friends and family with her to the Go Red luncheon, and it was only right that, you know, Carol's very untimely passing just moved us all so much and it just seemed right to honor her this year."
Click here to sign up to attend the 'Go Red' for Women Experience or to sponsor the event.
Barr shared a moment he reflects on as he moves forward to carry on his wife's legacy:
"I will never forget, in February of 2020, just a few months before she passed away. She said, 'Andy we have got to go to the Heart Ball this year.' And I said, 'Oh great, I think that's a great idea. That's on the same night as this hospital charity function that I've been invited to. I'll just run down to that in Berea, and then I'll come right up.' And she said, 'Absolutely not. You're coming with me. We're gonna go the whole time.' And it was, I don't know. It was a, maybe a just a sign that I needed to pay more attention to this going forward in the future she wanted me to pay attention to this, and it showed how committed she was to this cause."