Former Fillmore Councilwoman Ari Larson died on Sept. 17 from a health condition that neither she nor her family knew about.
Larson died from coronary artery disease, according to a Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office autopsy report. Undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes was a contributing factor to her death.
Larson's husband Pete Larson said he and his wife were unaware of the heart condition or diabetes.
"It was all a shock," he said. "Ari didn't know she had any of those things. One of the reasons she didn't know was she never went to a doctor."
Remembering Larson: Fillmore Councilwoman Ari Larson dies at 56
Pete Larson, 53, said they had been married for 24 years before she died in September. Larson was told there were a number of factors leading to his wife's death including clogged arteries, a previous heart attack they were not aware of, diabetes and a lung tumor.
"I've learned a lot in the last two months as far as medical conditions," he said. "I was pretty naïve."
According to the autopsy report, Larson, 56, was not under the care of a physician and took no medication. She complained of shortness of breath over the week prior to her death. She was not known to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use illicit drugs.
She was last known to be alive on the night of Sept. 16, and the next morning she was found unresponsive on a couch, according to the report. The autopsy demonstrated severe narrowing of the three main coronary arteries due to atherosclerosis, or plaque deposition on the inner lining.
Her manner of death was ruled natural, the autopsy report says.
Additionally, Larson was sick with COVID-19 in January and vaccinated in April, according to the report.
Pete Larson said officials told him there was "no way to pinpoint" if COVID had anything to do with the death.
"I got it at first, and then she got it," Pete said of COVID-19. "I was in bed for a week and when she got it, she was in bed for at least two weeks solid. For two months she couldn't really leave the house but it was OK because she was doing meetings via Zoom. It really kicked her butt."
Pete Larson said his wife sometimes had shortness of breath, and she attributed it to residual COVID-19. He said despite asking her to check it out, she never had the chance because she was so busy.
"She didn't like to talk about medical stuff," he said. "It wasn't interesting to her, and it wasn't a priority for her."
Pete Larson, a construction worker, said his wife walked constantly and was in a friendly competition with him over steps.
"Even if it was Saturday night and 10 at night," he said. "If she hadn't done her steps, she'd walk around the kitchen island to make sure."
Pete Larson said one of the last public events they attended together was the Santa Paula Labor Day parade on Sept. 6.
"She experienced some shortness of breath then," he said. "I was worried. I told her, 'Honey, let's not walk. Let's just give a big wave and cheer.' She insisted on walking it."
The couple ultimately stopped walking and finished watching the parade with the crowd.
He said in hindsight he would have pressed her to go to a doctor but in their relationship, he didn't feel comfortable telling her something over and over because she would get upset.
"If I had a crystal ball or education with heart disease ... maybe I could have tricked her and taken her to the doctor," he said. "But even then she would not have been happy. If I knew she was at death's door, I wouldn't care if she was mad at me."
Pete Larson said he now encourages people in their 40s and 50s to get bloodwork done to see if they have diabetes or other health issues.
He said in the aftermath, the local community has been extremely helpful.
"Just all the moral support ... I'm just blown away," he said.
Simone Alex, 47, was sworn in on Nov. 9 after the Fillmore City Council selected her to fill Ari Larson's seat.
Wes Woods II covers West County for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at email@example.com, 805-437-0262 or @JournoWes.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Autopsy reports show Fillmore councilwoman Larson's cause of death