Gary with his sons in a field

Gary Strother's heart attack story

Gary’s generous spirit lives on

The thing Jo Strother remembers most about her father Gary – who she lost to a heart attack in 2021 - was his kindness.

“Our family holds this Hoedown each year and I remember there was a woman there one year who was a bit down on her luck,” says Jo. 

“I don’t know what my dad said to her in the short conversation that they had, but she was at my dad's memorial, and she came up to me crying and hugged me and she said, ‘Your dad changed my life. Your dad saved my life.’

“That’s the kind of person he was. He was a generous man – who would do anything for anybody.” 
Gary singing at one of his hoedowns

That generous spirit earned the hardworking 72-year-old farmer - who loved his family, country music, gold mining and whiskey – much admiration among those who knew him. 

On the morning of 14 June 2021, Gary was taking his Volvo truck on the 4.5-hour trip to the mechanic in Perth. 

Unfortunately, during the drive, Gary suffered a heart attack and was unable to be resuscitated.

After his death, it was discovered that Gary had atherosclerosis - a buildup of plaque in the arteries and the most common cause of heart disease.  

Atherosclerosis is commonly referred to as a ‘silent killer’ as symptoms may only be present when the artery becomes fully blocked – at which point the consequences can be devastating. 

“Dad always said to me, ‘Jo, the doctors have said my blood pressure's great – I’m strong as an ox’,” says Jo. 

“If he did have any concerns he would've gone to the doctor because he was pretty good with that.” 

Gary with his wife

Though Jo says there were no obvious signs of an issue before her dad’s passing, she did have her concerns.

“You always hear that stress can affect the heart. He was carrying a bit of extra weight too. Those were the two main things that worried me,” says Jo.

After Gary’s passing, Jo and her siblings discovered through a series of heart health tests - including Lp(a) cholesterol tests, CT angiograms, and coronary calcium scoring - that what they assumed was a one-off tragedy was, in fact, part of a wider family issue.   

“From those tests, we now know that all of us have high cholesterol,” says Jo. 

“With this hypercholesterolemia in our family, we are at high risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.” 

Gary with his family

Losing her dad and finding out that she and her siblings are also at risk has put Jo on a mission to promote the importance of heart health checks to anyone who will listen.

“The first thing I say to people is you've got to go to your doctor and get your cholesterol checked, but also ask for an Lp(a) test because it’s not part of a routine cholesterol test,” says Jo. 

“The other thing I say is to consider having a CT coronary angiogram. As one of the nurses told me, it can save your life because it will show any plaque you have in your arteries that can put you at risk – even if you live a healthy lifestyle. 

“I want to make sure people know about these tests. We do prostate testing, we do breast screening, we do all these tests, so why not the heart?” 

Jo’s experience has also highlighted the importance of knowing your family history and connecting any dots that may point to genetic issues like high cholesterol levels. 

“In total there are around 10 people in our family who have had a heart attack. I didn’t know any of this and I don’t even know if my dad knew,” says Jo. 

As well as raising awareness of heart disease among friends and family, Jo and her family are bringing the issue of atherosclerosis and heart disease to light through The Holt Rock Hoedown, a country music show that the Strother family hold each year in April and October. 

At last year’s October Hoedown, the Institute’s Heart Health Check team was invited to attend so guests could have their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked. 

Victor Chang Heart Health Check at The Holt Rock Hoedown

Jo and her family will also be dedicating funds from each year’s October Hoedown to the Institute in memory of their beloved Gary. 

“We want the money that we raise to go to the Institute because we know that it will help save lives. I think that's what dad would want us to do,” says Jo. 

Generous donations ensure the Institute’s scientists can continue to do research that could save people like Gary from the devastating effects of atherosclerosis – like Professor Jason Kovacic and his team, who are currently studying the role of the PHACTR1 gene in atherosclerosis. 

“It’s just so incredible what Jason and his team are doing. I can't wait to see what breakthroughs come from this research,” says Jo.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years