Greg Jensen remembered for a love of life, not his illness

Talk to people who knew Greg Jensen, they’ll mention his incomparable smile and his unbridled laugh.

Although he lived with chronic illness his whole life, that isn’t what people who knew Jensen best remember.

“He was energetic and silly all the time. He had this laugh, once he started everybody was laughing,” said Lauren Jensen, father of the Snohomish 21-year-old who died Oct. 7. “There was never one day when he sat there and said ‘Why?’ Even though he was really sick, even when we had to pound on his back to knock stuff out of his lungs.

“What I remember is all of us together having fun whenever we could. He was a great guy,” Lauren Jensen said of his son.

Gregory Alan Jensen suffered from cystic fibrosis, a congenital disease which causes mucous to build up in the lungs. It impairs breathing and leaves the body susceptible to infection. He was stricken several times by a type of lymphoma common in lung transplant patients.

He is survived by his parents, Tina and Lauren Jensen; his older brother, Ben; his cousin, Julie; and his girlfriend, Kari Ann Felzer.

When Greg was 11, in 1997, he captured the community’s heart when he underwent a double lung transplant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. For nearly a year, the family leased a house in Missouri. Lauren Jensen kept his job here and traveled there when he could.

Greg, who was in a wheelchair until after his transplant, lived as full and normal a life as his health would allow. In Snohomish, he attended Emerson Elementary School and Valley View Middle School. In 2003, although he couldn’t attend regularly, he graduated from Snohomish High School. His mother said he spent more than 1,000 days at Children’s Hospital Medical Center and later at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Recently, he worked for T-Mobile along with his father and brother. “He loved the people there,” Lauren Jensen said. “He monitored the cellular network in California. It was a big job.”

Greg had a good decade after the transplant, his father said. “He started getting sick about six months ago. Doctors always said he was never going to live as long as other people. It was about how many days they could give him that he didn’t have to think about his disease,” Lauren Jensen said.

Tina Jensen said that although their son was small — he was 5 feet tall and weighed less than 90 pounds — “he could go out and pretty much do what he wanted.”

“He had a huge personality that drove him to endure everything,” she said. “He enjoyed playing on the computer and he loved his car.” Her son, she said, had a Subaru Impreza. He was crazy about comedy movies and video games and liked shopping.

Greg Jensen was active in Monroe-based Youth Unlimited, a Christian group that helps troubled kids and conducts mission trips across the country and abroad.

Blayne Greiner, 54, a Youth Unlimited leader, became a close friend of the Jensen family. Greg, an intern with Youth Unlimited, went on several mission trips. Greiner recalled him speaking to a group of kids in Arizona, telling them not to take parents for granted or waste their lives on drugs. Since Greg Jensen’s death, Greiner said he’s heard from a young woman in Phoenix who called to say Jensen changed her life.

“You know that movie ‘Deep Impact,’ when a meteor hits the earth? Greg had a deep impact on many people,” Greiner said. “He lives on, as I travel to places telling the story of Greg.”

Kari Ann Felzer met Greg Jensen with friends in 2006. The 20-year-old from Everett, who’s as small as her boyfriend was, remembers at first being too shy to talk with him. “He was really cute,” she said.

She’ll never forget his laugh. “If he started laughing, you’d start laughing even if you didn’t know what was funny,” she said. “His laugh was really contagious. And no matter who you are, he was very accepting. He had so many friends, he was one of the most popular people I know.”

Greiner said Jensen’s memorial service at Hope Foursquare Church in Snohomish was so crowded that people were standing outside.

Christina Reagan, 19, lives with the Jensens in Snohomish and knew Greg as a dear friend. “He was grateful for everything he had,” Reagan said. “He had a smile, a laugh, a personality that just lit up the room. He set a standard of how to live life.”

“We feel he had a complete life, even though it was cut short,” Tina Jensen said. “He got to experience so much in that brief window of health.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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