Greg Lowrie is a fighter.
After spending several months in a coma following a nearly fatal bicycle crash, the Berkeley native is starting to regain his strength. He is now walking with a walker, is taking classes at Laney College, and is preparing for more surgeries, including one to repair a congenital heart defect.
“Mentally, I’m good. And I’m losing weight. It’s just a few pounds but it’s still something,” Lowrie said.
Lowrie, 29, was born with only two heart valves and has had three open-heart surgeries, the latest when he was 18. He suffered a stroke when he was 10. A few years ago, he and his mother, Maggie Lowrie, a former lawyer who was disbarred, wound up homeless and living in West Oakland after she lost her home of 24 years on Channing Way in Berkeley.
Then, in January 2015, while biking to a West Oakland health clinic, Lowrie was hit by a pick-up truck at Eighth and Union streets and nearly died from his injuries. To make things worse, he was pickpocketed as he lay unconscious. Police said Lowrie might have driven into the intersection against a red light.
Lowrie was rushed to Highland Hospital, suffering from severe head trauma, a cervical spine fracture, his spleen was bleeding, and his pelvis was fractured. A tracheotomy tube helped him breathe, and he had a feeding tube in his stomach.
According to doctors, he had little hope of surviving. He scored a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, used to measure a person’s level of consciousness. “To put that in perspective, it’s as low as you can get,” said Gregory Victorino, the hospital’s chief of trauma services. “It’s like a rock. A rock would have a GCS of 3.”
Lowrie spent several months in a coma at Highland Hospital, his recovery complicated by his heart condition. After miraculously waking in March 2015, he was transferred to Fairmont Hospital’s rehabilitation center in San Leandro for several months.
His mother bicycled and took BART from the homeless encampment in West Oakland to visit him nearly every day. He gradually made improvement and was soon ready for surgeries, including removal of his spleen at Castro Valley Medical Center.
It hasn’t been easy for either of them.
“I didn’t think I was this strong,” Maggie Lowrie said at the time. “I’ve put my depression in the back seat.”
Lowrie spent nearly a year recovering at the Valley Pointe Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Castro Valley. He’s struggled with depression, spending his days watching TV and playing video games, but now that he’s able to walk at least a mile a day. The exercise has helped lift his spirits.
“I was very depressed and suicidal. I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten happier, but I’ve adjusted to this life,” Lowrie said.
Things are finally looking up for Lowrie and his mother, who now lives in Section 8 housing in East Oakland. Lowrie has spent years recovering, undergoing multiple surgeries including two on his left foot, and is now able to walk a good distance with a walker after physical therapy.
“Water therapy was the best, now I can just stand up and balance without holding on to anything,” Lowrie said.
Yet his struggle continues as he awaits both heart and hip surgery, and his insurance company stopped paying for physical therapy in May.
Despite his medical issues, Lowrie has been trying to live a normal life and has been taking classes at Laney College in Oakland. He loves to cook and dreams of being a chef. He even studied journalism for a semester. His mother has been his tireless advocate throughout his recovery.
“It’s been remarkable,” Maggie Lowrie said, “I just wish he could recover as fast as he wants to.”
Staff writer David DeBolt contributed to this report.
To donate to Greg Lowrie’s Facebook fundraiser, click here.