Almost a year ago, on Oct. 1, 2019, Wes Barr died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack — leaving family, friends and a community in shock at the loss of the former Sangamon County sheriff and community leader.
Looking back and talking about his condition with friends, they agreed there weren’t any signs of an oncoming heart attack. Then it occurred to his wife, Sherry, that they had missed two indicators that something wasn’t right.
Wes had been talking about having indigestion for at least a month.
“We didn’t think of that as a sign of a heart attack,” Sherry said. She had experienced chest pain shortly herself before and it was simply indigestion.
Heart attacks aren’t always the swift and intense events that are portrayed on television. As a result, some people may delay calling 911 because they don’t realize that what they’re feeling is a heart attack.
Most heart attacks involve discomfort — felt in the center of the chest — that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes. Many people describe it as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Other warning signs or symptoms can include:
• Pain in the upper body — such as in the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or one or both arms.
• Shortness of breath.
• Cold sweat, upset stomach or dizziness.
• Extreme tiredness, especially in women.
Wes had also been on medication for high blood pressure for years. His dentist noticed an elevated blood pressure, but his doctor had recently discontinued one of two medications because he was doing so well.
Assuming his blood pressure medication just needed readjusted, his doctor put him back on the prescription.
That same week, Wes died of a heart attack while cleaning his boat. The coroner found he had 90% blockage in the left anterior descending artery, known as the “widow maker.”
In honor of Wes, Sherry started The Heart of Wes Barr, a non-profit organization that supports special projects for veteran associations, social services, law enforcement and animal protection in Sangamon County – all endeavors that were important to Wes.
“We’ve had a couple of friends who feel that Wes’ situation has saved their lives,” Sherry said. These friends had perceived indigestion, but thinking of Wes, they chose to go to the hospital. In both cases, they had the same blockage as had been found in Wes’ heart.
“If Wes’ situation can help the people close to us, it can help everyone who knew him,” Sherry said. “I want everyone to have a different outcome than Wes.”
The Heart of Wes Barr now partners with the Prairie Heart Institute to promote awareness about cardiovascular disease. A new fund created through the Prairie Heart Foundation will dedicate all donations to community education initiatives. Raising the Barr on Heart Health Funds supports programs like Dial, Don’t Drive and Stop the Bleed and devices such as automatic external defibrillators.
“I want people to know that indigestion is a sign,” Sherry said. “If you have indigestion, go get it checked. High blood pressure is definitely a sign, and you should have that checked. Don’t take any chances.”
For more information about The Heart of Wes Barr, go to theheartofwesbarr.org/.