"We got a young mother that we don’t have a cause of death for. There’s no explanation for it at the scene," the coroner tells PEOPLE. "Obviously, an autopsy was necessary"

By Wendy Grossman Kantor and Adam Carlson
June 17, 2020 05:24 PM
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Authorities believe Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr's wife, Eleanor Carol Leavell Barr, died suddenly at their Lexington home on Tuesday night as a result of a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse.

Preliminary autopsy findings indicate the 39-year-old mother of two, who went by Carol, had mitral valve prolapse (MVP), also known as floppy valve syndrome or Barlow's syndrome, the Fayette County coroner announced Wednesday afternoon.

The coroner, Gary Ginn, tells PEOPLE they responded to the Barrs' home shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday and Carol was in her home office when she was found dead.

"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 explains.

(He dismissed earlier reporting in The New York Times that Carol had likely died from a massive brain aneurysm.)

Carol and Andy Barr (center) with their daughters
Andy Barr/Facebook

Ginn says he's spoken to the Barr family and "they’re coping the best they possibly can."

"They’re all very together and trying to stay together," he says.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, in people with MVP the heart's mitral valve has "floppy" flaps that may not seal properly, causing blood to "leak the wrong way through the floppy valve."

Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr (right) next to his wife, Carol, and their daughters Eleanor and Mary Clay in 2018
Timothy D Easley/AP/Shutterstock
Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr (right) with his wife, Carol, in 2018
Timothy D Easley/AP/Shutterstock

Complications from MVP, however, are rare and most people with the condition do not experience symptoms or major backflow, according to the institute.

When complications do arise, it is usually due to the flow of blood back through the valve the wrong way which, over time, can cause heart muscle strain and lead to arrhythmia (or an irregular heartbeat) or increase the risk of a bacterial infection in the heart.

Carol's unexpected passing drew an outpouring of condolences from the state's political figures. In his own statement on Wednesday morning, her husband remembered her as "dear and precious."

"At this 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," the 46-year-old Republican lawmaker said.

He and Carol wed in 2008 and shared girls Eleanor, 9, and Mary Clay, 7.

"She’s got two beautiful daughters and it just is a misfortune," the coroner tells PEOPLE. "It’s horrible."

Rep. Andy Barr (right) next to wife Carol in 2015
Cliff Owen/AP/Shutterstock
Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr (right), with wife Carol Barr, being congratulated by supporters after his 2012 election win.
Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty

An alumna of the University of Kentucky, Carol had recently worked in health care and had grown up in Georgetown, Kentucky, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"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 and for all those who have surrounded Carol’s family, the girls and I with beautiful expressions of love, compassion and sympathy,” Rep. Barr said in his statement.

Through their daughters, he said, "Carol’s extraordinary life, high character and irrepressible spirit will continue."