A reader emailed in to ask why I have been quiet on the blog and well it's been a busy past month, wrapping up school with my kids, a family trip to Palmetto Bluff and then over the past week we have unfortunately had the loss of a friend, Carol Barr. A week ago today - last Tuesday evening (6/16/20), we got the news that Carol had passed very suddenly with no warning while at home at her desk. Many of you may have seen it posted in the news - Carol was the 39-year-old wife of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr. My husband and Andy were very dear college friends, fraternity brothers and college roommates. Here they are on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC.

My husband with Andy at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Andy, Carol and their daughters Eleanor and Mary Clay

Andy was at our wedding, we were at theirs and we enjoyed getting to know Carol over the years. Carol was immensely sweet, kind, warm, intelligent, strong, caring, outgoing, a total go-getter and an incredible wife and mother. I still remember when Andy told Carney and me that he had found "the one". She was everything he could have hoped for in a spouse, friend and life partner and we are so saddened by this immense loss. Here are some photos I snapped at their wedding:

My husband with Andy and Carol
My husband is perched over Andy's left shoulder. This is their group of close-knit fraternity brothers, they all attended UVA together. Six of them were at the funeral this past weekend with us.

The coroner's report listed a mitral valve prolapse as the cause. It's a monumental loss for her husband Andy and two little girls Eleanor (age 9) and Mary Clay (age 7) who have lost their mother so young and with no warning or chance to say goodbye.

We arrived home late last night from the visitation and funeral over the last two days in Lexington, KY. One of the sadder parts of the weekend was that Sunday, we attended her visitation in the same church and on the same day that they were married twelve years ago. It was heartbreaking to see her coffin at the head of the aisle on their anniversary. Her mother, who was just crushed when I spoke with her at the visitation, said to me that she was wearing the same shoes for her funeral that she had worn on the same day 12 days earlier for the wedding. It made me weep. A terrible thing for any mother to have to endure -- the loss of a child. Heartbreaking!

While in Lexington this weekend for the funeral, a mutual friend mentioned to me that Carol had worn a heart monitor in February - and I don't know the exact details but something to the effect of that there was an irregular heartbeat and that she was told that they would keep an eye on it. This story and sequence of unfortunate events is a big reminder that we women need to be on top of our heart health. It's often something we overlook, but heart disease is the LEADING cause of death among American women yet something we rarely talk about. We need to talk about it more. Women are so busy balancing so much and often don't take enough time for their own health. From what I have read, mitral valve prolapse doesn't typically present this way but I guess there are the exceptions.

Dr. Kelly Airey, a cardiologist in Iowa posted to her Facebook page:

"The exact cause of Carol Barr’s death is not stated, but this should raise awareness about a serious, under-recognized condition associated with mitral valve prolapse (MVP). With MVP, one can develop ventricular arrhythmias. Young women tend to be most susceptible. I have seen quite a few in my practice. The arrhythmic spectrum can range from benign to life threatening VT and VF, requiring defibrillators, anti-arrhythmic medications and/or ablations. Palpitations and skipped beats, dizziness and syncope in patients with mitral valve prolapse should never be taken lightly."

We need to talk about our hearts, compare notes and experiences and encourage each other to ask to have them checked. I feel that so often women are being told that heart palpitations, skipped beats or other symptoms are due to anxiety, panic attacks or being "too busy" and this is something that has to stop. Women need better heart health care. My husband is on the board of the Children's Cardiomiopathy Foundation and because this cause is important to my husband, Andy has been helpful over the years including introducing a bill in March before Congress to raise awareness of CCF. It's ironic now given the past week's events and when I spoke to Andy at the funeral this weekend he said that heart health will now be an important cause for him. Perhaps the loss of Carol will shine a light on the need for better heart health care for young women across the country.

Aside from the horror of a young and unexpected death like this, the cause has rocked me even more because I have had some minor heart issues that have been monitored over the years here and there. Most recently when I was sick in Feb/March, I wore a heart monitor and it came back with some results that will need to get relooked at. My preliminary symptoms over the years had been irregular heartbeat and palpitations - I was born with a heart murmur, seemingly 'outgrew it' but then had heart issues when I had lyme disease in 2014-2015. When I was sick earlier this year the issues returned and my Zio heart monitor showed a block. At the time I was told that hopefully the findings were 'incidental' and likely nothing to be too concerned about. Then of course because of coronavirus lockdowns I couldn't get in to see my cardiologist to talk in person so had to have a 'telemedicine' call. (By the way, what does incidental really mean and one has to wonder how many women get that feedback when having an issue) I can't help but wonder if this was the case also with Carol. People all over the country were forced to overlook or put off medical care or in-person doctors appointments because doctors offices across the nation shut down due to coronavirus. Healthcare needs were put off, postponed and now we are seeing the dire effects of that in some cases where warning signs of more serious issues could have been overlooked given the pandemics timing. It's really a travesty that our medical system and country weren't better prepared for the pandemic (and of course if China had notified us earlier or been more transparent about coronavirus so much would have been different) because we see reverberations in ways we couldn't have imagined. Let me clarify that I don't know this to be definitely the case for Carol, but I would encourage readers to catch up on healthcare needs that may have been delayed or ignored during lockdowns. We will never know if perhaps there were more palpitations or skipped beats or any other warning signs in Carol's case that perhaps she put off because of worries regarding the pandemic or if she had been reassured by her doctors that this wasn't something to be alarmed about. So many people were afraid to see their doctors or go to a hospital during this time period or were put to the bottom of the list by their own physicians who were prioritizing any and everything related to Covid-19 over all over medical needs, it's really a sad story if any of this could have been prevented by more investigation into her heart during the months coinciding with lockdowns. Or perhaps this is such a rare case of sudden death that nothing could have been done. I would like to have more cardiologists weigh in on this topic. It's hard to know for sure but we can't help but wonder...

Like anyone who has suddenly lost a friend, my mind is trying to process how someone can be here one minute and gone the next, trying to understand why it happened, why bad things happen to good people...the whys... and then trying to wrap my head around a widowed husband who we adore who now has two young daughters to raise. Andy is a great guy, I love ribbing him about politics every time I see him because we don't always agree but the great thing is to be able to debate someone you don't always agree with yet stay very close friends. There are many friends who don't agree on all politics but still have an important and long term connection.

Life is complicated and not easy for many people and we must enjoy every moment, find joy in the small things and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. If you follow me on social media you may have seen some of the photos I posted of Carol which you can scroll through, some were of a trip to Washington, DC where Andy took our kids and their girls as well as another UVA family on a magical tour of the Capitol building. We had a great time and these are memories with Carol that I will cherish and I'm happy to share those here:

Here are a few photos of the family in happier times:

Congressman Andy Barr's wife Carol Barr dies suddenly
Memorial services announced for Carol Barr, wife of U.S. Rep Andy Barr
Carol Barr, 39, wife of Congressman Andy Barr, dies unexpectedly

This is a video clip from the end of Carol's funeral service and I wanted to share it with you so that you can see what a beautiful woman, mother and wife she was -- and to bring this closer to home to you to encourage you to make your heart health a priority. We women give so much of our hearts every day to everyone in our life and it's time to look inward, focus on some self care and take care of our hearts. Be sure to ask your doctor about your heart health at your next appointment...