I thought I was bullet-proof

Graham Lowe may be a giant in the world of rugby league, but his battle with heart disease has often left him a fragile man over the years.

“Many people are just not aware of the toll that heart disease takes on a person, mentally and emotionally,” he explains. “Your whole life on this planet is all of a sudden at extreme risk. I think it takes a lot of courage, determination and will-power to face it.”

Lowie, a former top professional league coach, was only a teenager when his dad had a cardiac arrest and died at the age of 41.

As he became an adult, he knew heart disease ran in his family – but he still didn’t see it coming. 

“I was aware but, like most people, I thought I was bulletproof. I was in a job that was giving the image that I was bigger than Ben-Hur.”

Lowie’s heart problems started in the early ‘90s when he took up coaching the legendary Manly Sea Eagles in Sydney.

He was under massive pressure to win games but felt like he had no right to complain. 

“While I knew there was a family history of heart disease, I didn’t actually recognise it was stress that I was under. I looked at the lady living down the road, raising three kids on her own and struggling to buy the groceries – now that’s stress. But the truth is that if you don’t have balance in your life and if you’re working yourself into a frenzy, you can’t expect nothing to go wrong.”

His first heart attack came out of the blue.

“I thought I’d been a little bit more tired than usual. I was taking the rubbish bins out one day and was sweating. I climbed three stairs and started to feel odd.”

He’ll always remember what the cardiologist told him that day. “He said the good news is you’ve never smoked a cigarette and that’s a good thing. The bad news is you need a triple bypass. I couldn’t believe it.”

Lowie says he’s always been a confident person but the diagnosis hit him hard.

“It took me ages to regain my confidence. I felt fragile.”

Since then, he has experienced numerous heart events and had countless stents inserted.

The 68-year-old has two adult daughters, and he and his wife Karen now have 11-year-old twin boys.

Lowie says one of his greatest fears is of dying and abandoning his wife and kids.

“It terrifies me. I avoided having children with my second wife for a long time. The last thing I wanted to do was have children and then cark it the next day.”

At the time of his most recent heart attack - while driving in October last year - one of his sons was sitting in the car beside him.

“He asked ‘Dad are you ok’ because I’d probably changed colour a bit and was starting to breath heavily. He told me to stop but I didn’t want to scare him. Fortunately, we were just around the corner from home and I was able to call an ambulance minutes later.”

Despite his health troubles, Lowie remains determined to enjoy every moment with his family.

“While it (heart disease) can be devastating, if you get onto it early enough and follow the guidelines, it need not be devastating.”

Lowie is passionate about sharing his story and helping other people learn about heart disease, its causes and symptoms.

“I’m blessed in that I was involved in a job that gave me the absolute privilege of having recognition with people. I try to use that as effectively as I can to share what’s happened to me. I haven’t coped with it any worse or any better than anyone, but this is simply what happened to me.”

His advice for others?

“Even if you have the slightest concern you should get it checked out. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but that minute.”