A high school principal from New Jersey has been heralded as a hero after passing away following complications arising from a bone marrow extraction. Seeking to help a sick young boy, Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson underwent the donation procedure at a hospital in February.
Immediately afterward, however, the 44-year-old was rendered unable to speak or move.
“After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed,” his father, 81, told NJ.com. “His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.”
For weeks, several of Nelson’s family members kept a prayer vigill at his bedside, hoping and praying he would recvoer. But the compassionate educator fell eventually fell into a coma and never woke up.
“We really don’t know the full story of what happened,” Willie noted. “We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it.”
Dr. Nelson explained his desire to provide the 14-year-old French boy with much-needed stem cells in an interview with the Westfield High School student newspaper. “If it’s just a little bit of pain for a little bit of time that can give someone years of joy, it’s all worth it,” he said.
Doctors were reportedly concerned about doing the donation procedure while Nelson was under general anesthetic because he suffered from sleep apnea.
However, intravenous extraction was also ruled out because Nelson was determined to be a carrier of sickle cell anemia. So, in an attempt to minimize the risks, doctors decided to carry out the procedure with local anesthetic.
While stem cell donations are usually relatively straight-forward, in a statement to CBS News, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) noted that roughly 2.4% of donors “experience serious complications due to anesthesia or damage to bone, nerve, or muscle in their hip region.”
Nelson’s good friend, musician Salm Sivaad, tweeted that, when hearing of the principal’s death, he assumed it had something to do with his service in the Army Reserve.
“It turns out Derrick’s death was no less heroic, and ultimately tragic,” Sivaad tweeted. “My friend died trying to save the life of a child…a total stranger who he’d never met from a foreign land. Derrick died as a result of complications while donating life-saving bone marrow.”
Students pay tribute
In the days following news of his death, students at Westfield have been recalling fond memories of the much-loved principal.
“I always knew that he was a great man, said 16-year-old Marcela Avans. “He was the type of man that used authority but was still such an approachable man. I can’t name a single person that didn’t like him.”
“When I found out that he was first ill, it broke my heart because he was helping someone, but it really made me respect him and appreciate his service to the community even more,” she added.
Another student, Emma Roth said she remembers Nelson “with a smile on his face at the games,” noting that “he was very energetic.”
“He was different from any other principal I’ve ever had,” she added.
In a letter sent out to parents Monday, Westfield School District Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan said that Dr. Nelson “touched us all with his kindness, compassion, integrity, and endlessly positive attitude.
Nelson’s funeral will take place on Monday.
Do pray for the family of Principal Nelson at this devastating time.