Greg's patients loved him and he loved them and he was really passionate about trying to make our office a place they would feel comfortable coming and would want to come back. —Dr. Jeff Jensen
PROVO — Pediatricians often become members of many families. These doctors heal their patients and soothe the fears and concerns of their parents. And so it was with Dr. Gregory Nielsen of Provo, a tall doctor with a gentle touch.
"Greg's patients loved him and he loved them and he was really passionate about trying to make our office a place they would feel comfortable coming and would want to come back," Nielsen's partner, Dr. Jeff Jensen, said.
Nielsen was a partner in Utah Valley Pediatrics. He died March 3 at age 38, within a week of a diagnosis of a staph infection. During treatment for the infection, Nielsen suffered a fatal stroke, shocking family and friends and bringing an outpouring of grief, but warm remembrances of a doctor who was part of the fabric of Utah County.
"He was very gracious about me calling … and concerned about his patient," Jensen remembered, as Nielsen sought care for his patients, even as he was ailing. "He didn't tell me he was sick and that turned out to be the last time that I talked to him," Jensen said.
At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Nielsen's examining room tables were much higher than those of other doctors and his stool was adjusted to the lowest level.
Shannon Nelson was his nurse for a year and said his patients couldn't wait to see him.
"When I picture Dr. Nielsen, I always tell the story of this little child, about 1-year-old, with developmental issues, on his hands and knees crawling as fast as he could to get to Dr. Nielsen. He just would scramble into his arms. So all of his patients had that physical touch, he would just hug them all, very emotional. He loved them and they loved him so much. Everyone wanted to go see the tall doctor."
Born and raised in Provo, Nielsen graduated from Timpview High School and BYU.
His brother, Jeff Nielsen, who lives in Virginia and spoke at the funeral earlier this month, described Greg as having lived a life filled with light and love. He was a man of great faith, he said, who was the peacemaker in the family as the siblings grew up.
The youngest, Tricia, was born with Down Syndrome. They all did exercises and routines with her, but "Greg would later say that doing this service with Tricia was the first time he considered becoming a doctor," Jeff Nielsen said.
Later, as adults, they enjoyed family reunions at a beach. In San Diego in 2005, while boogie boarding, Jeff lost control and hit his head on the ocean bottom.
"Greg, I can't feel my arm!," he yelled. But Greg was by his side, moving him out of the water, examining him. He spent hours making sure his brother got to the hospital and received the care he needed. "I don't know what I would have done without him on that morning."
"This," he said, "is just one example among many of Greg being a healer to our family."
His lifelong friend, Robert Spencer, describes him as gifted. He played the French horn beautifully. He was bright scholar who also loved sports, particularly basketball and skiing. And sometimes he was full of mischief.
"A lot of toilet-papering, but we always felt guilty about it, and so we'd go back and help the people we toilet-papered clean up and that was the kind of person Greg was," Spencer said of Nielsen's antics. "Through the years of consistent choices that he made that were just full of goodness, we trusted him completely."
His devotion to his children, Spencer says, made him a good doctor.
"When the kids found out you were doing this, they wanted people to know that he was just an incredible dad. He loved his family. He just was constantly playing with them, constantly taking them out, outdoors, they were number one to him and I think that translated into this practice."
His neighbor and friend Glen Thaxton remembers playing basketball as adults at Church, "While going up for a rebound … Greg's elbow connected with my face. After regaining consciousness a few minutes later, Greg was there to help. We had a good time laughing about it for many years. Greg had a way of showing his love through his example. I never heard Greg say anything negative about others. He was always so kind to all."
A colleague in medical school and residency, Dr. Scott Thompson, said, "I don't think I've ever known a better person, humble, kind, always thinking of others. Pediatricians never achieve the attention other doctors do, but Greg chose to become one purely because of his love of children. This is a huge loss for this world."
Everyone in the office misses him. Some have difficult moments, like making phone calls to change appointments.
"This is Torrie at Utah Valley Pediatrics, just calling about Lucy's appointment that's scheduled in May with Dr. Nielsen. I'm not sure if you're heard or not, but Dr. Nielsen passed away a couple of weeks ago," the phone call goes, before pausing to received condolences.
Children and their parents in the Provo area are mourning the loss and expressed sentiments on the Deseret News obituary guest book.
Rachel Dunston said: "He was an amazing doctor and a great guy. He was involved in saving my little boy's life twice. We are forever grateful."
Veronica Villacreses wrote: "Gavin and Maddix wanted you to know he was their favorite doctor because he was tall and strong and no one else can make their owies better like he can."
Emily Page added: "I know his presence, love, care, smile and vast knowledge of ways to best treat my children will leave a huge void in our lives."
One life touched so many others. His friends and colleagues say Greg Nielsen made them want to be better.
To Becky Nielsen and their four children, he was the best husband and father — forever a shining example of a man who loved life and them.