Face of Defense: Coma Survivor Works to Improve Others’ Lives
By Army Spc. Jamie Philbrook
1st Theater Sustainment Command
FORT BRAGG, N.C., July 31, 2012 Army Sgt. Merrell Lowe went to a doctor for what he thought was a minor issue, but his next memory was waking up from a coma.
Army Sgt. Merrell Lowe stops to catch his breath between exercises. On his own time, he conducts daily fitness classes that he developed to help other soldiers. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jamie Philbrook
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I woke up to the beeping noises of the heart monitor. When I opened my eyes, I saw my company commander looking down at me asking if I was OK,” said Lowe, an automated logistical specialist with 1st Theater Sustainment Command. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why is he at my house?’ I was completely unaware that I had just spent the past week in a coma. The last thing I remembered was going to the doctor for a cramp in my leg.”
In 2010, Lowe found himself consumed with a demanding job and long hours that left little time for anything else. In a few short months, lack of proper nutrition and fitness put his health in danger and his life at risk. His blood sugar spiked to more than 10 times higher than normal, causing a diabetic coma.
“I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and rhabdomyolysis,” Lowe explained. Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which the muscle fibers break down, releasing myoglobin into the bloodstream.
“After waking up from that state, I came to the conclusion that I would not be back in the hospital again,” Lowe said. “From that point on, I said, ‘This is it’. Once I got out of there, the healthy eating [and] the training started immediately.”
After struggling to meet the Army’s physical fitness and weight standards, Lowe took matters into his own hands. He created a system that worked. Later, he found success implementing his system to help other soldiers with their fitness.
“I ‘guinea pigged’ myself,” he said. “I went out and did exercises to see if I would improve. I started focusing on eating, exercising and praying so I could get back to helping soldiers.”
That was more than two years ago. Now, Lowe can be found helping others who are struggling with weight, fitness and nutrition.
While physical fitness is a staple of everyday military life, some soldiers need a little extra help in that department. Whether it is to improve Army Physical Fitness Test scores, to get back in shape after having a baby, or to recover from an injury, the command’s soldiers seek out Lowe.
During the duty day, Lowe, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge, can be found in the orderly room of the 1st TSC Headquarters and Headquarters Company. However, while most soldiers are enjoying their lunches or are home with their families after the duty day, Lowe is at various facilities on and off post, helping others get to where they need and strive to be.
When Army Sgt. 1st Class Mary Upshaw found out about an upcoming duty assignment, she knew she needed to take her physical fitness to the next level. She went straight to Lowe for that additional support.
“I am about to go to a new and challenging job as an advanced individual training platoon sergeant,” Upshaw said. “I knew with [the AIT soldiers] being so young that I was going to have the extra challenge of keeping up with them.”
Upshaw rapidly noticed drastic improvements, not only in her physical capabilities, but also in her overall health.
“I am no longer sluggish in the morning,” she said. “I am full of energy. I can run further and faster, and the weight loss has been phenomenal.”
Noting that he had to work through a rough period with his health, weight and physical fitness, Lowe said he encourages others who may be having some of the same struggles to join him during his workout sessions.
“You are going to get maximum results,” he said. “I am out here doing it with you. I may laugh and joke, but I am hurting just like you.” Lowe said he uses humor to cover up the pain he endures.
“No one helped me, so I want to help others,” he said. “I love helping people. It’s who I am. It’s my personality.” Lowe also runs a two-week recovery program to ease injured soldiers back into physical training.
Upshaw is among many who are grateful for the time Lowe spends helping soldiers.
“I appreciate Sergeant Lowe,” she said. “He makes time for anybody that needs that extra push. He is a great motivator.”