Published on November 05, 2019
Bursary honours life and career of Greg Siver
Ever since childhood, Greg Siver was fascinated by the emergency medical field. As a boy, his favourite TV show Emergency! starred first responders, recalls his mother Sandra McConnell.
“He just thought those guys who drive the ambulance were heroes,” Sandra says. “It definitely put a seed there.”
After Greg (pictured right) completed an Emergency Medical Technician Ambulance program in Calgary in 1992, he worked in Redwater, 60 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. He soon discovered a desire to further his lifesaving skills and decided to become a paramedic, studying at NAIT.
It was during Greg’s final year in the program when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system he previously fought in the early 1990s. He completed his final practicum while undergoing chemotherapy and was scheduled for a stem cell transplant.
“He took it all in stride and he never complained. That’s the way he faced it,” says Nelle Siver, Greg’s wife and high school sweetheart.
“He had so much compassion. All he wanted to do was help people.”
Greg recovered and went on to enjoy a career as a paramedic for nearly 2 decades with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Edmonton. He served the community answering people’s calls for help. The work was difficult at times, but he never wavered in his dedication, also choosing to pass on his knowledge at NAIT where he was also a part-time instructor for several years.
Even on the toughest days, Nellie says Greg loved being a paramedic. “He had so much compassion. All he wanted to do was help people.”
A trial of perseverance and hope
In 2010, Greg ran for Edmonton city council in Ward 3 because he wanted to contribute back to his city. While canvassing he noticed that he felt tired constantly, which was unusual for the avid golfer and cyclist.
Greg was diagnosed with cancer for a third time; this time with Myelodysplastic syndrome, which attacks blood cells in bone marrow. He needed a transplant, so his EMS colleagues rallied together to organize a bone marrow drive to find him a match. Hundreds of people turned up.
“He never ever gave up. He would get these trials put in front of him but he always felt hope.”
After months of battling, a donor was found and Greg underwent surgery in July 2011.
“He never ever gave up. He would get these trials put in front of him but he always felt hope. He would just persevere, persevere,” says Nellie. “Greg’s perseverance and his body were pushed to his limits. Until he just could not do it anymore. “
Tragically, Greg died 5 months later at the age of 47, succumbing to complications from the surgery.
“When he realized he wasn’t going to make it, he told me that he wanted the bells and whistles for a funeral,” says Nellie. “He wanted honour guard to preside. He wanted a celebration of life.”
Greg got his wish. His funeral was standing room only.
As she was grieving, Nellie wanted to honour her love for her husband. She and Greg’s colleagues organized a charity golf tournament and within 3 years raised more than $10,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. In 2015, Greg was chosen as the “Remembered hero” for the Light the Night annual event.
Bursary honours passion for the paramedic profession
In the years since Greg passed, Nellie wanted to recognize Greg’s passion for his work as a paramedic. “He loved his job. Even when he was sick he couldn’t wait get back to work,” she says.
Nellie and Sandra established the Gregory Siver Memorial Awards at NAIT.
“I thought creating the bursary was a good idea, because being a paramedic meant so much him,” says Sandra. “I couldn’t think of a better way to remember him.”
“If they are struggling and they show that perseverance, that’s who I’m hoping these bursaries help.”
In 2019, Courtney Gallatin received the first Gregory Siver Memorial Award, which supports Paramedic students.
“Many people have to face horrible situations, but still manage to succeed. If they are struggling and they show that perseverance, that’s who I’m hoping these bursaries help,” says Nellie. “The first recipient fit the criteria above and beyond.”
Courtney (pictured right with Nellie) was diagnosed with lupus at age 18 and has struggled with the condition for more than a decade. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect the brain, heart, lungs, skin and joints. The experience has inspired her to help others as a paramedic.
“I had a lot of positive experiences while receiving health care,” she says. “I wanted to pay it forward, because I have an understanding of what people are going through, especially with chronic diseases.”
After meeting with Nellie, Courtney was surprised to learn that she is working on the same platoon Greg worked on. “I talked to people who knew him and tried to learn about what he was like. The more I heard about him, the more I was just blown away about just how amazing he was.”
“To be recognized by these amazing people with amazing stories, it is just so emotional and heartfelt; it gave me that extra push to make it through the program.”
Receiving the award was instrumental for Courtney, who graduated from the Paramedic program in May 2019.
“To be recognized by these amazing people with amazing stories, it is just so emotional and heartfelt. It gave me that extra push to make it through the program,” says Courtney. “I’m so grateful to people like Nellie and Sandra who pay it forward to future generations of paramedics.”