Hero principal tragically dies after undergoing procedure to donate bone marrow to teenager he'd never met
Derrick Nelson, the 44-year-old principal of Westfield High School, tragically passed away last weekend. He died after trying to save the life of a 14-year-old boy from another country, who he had never met.
Nelson fell into a coma in February this year, after undergoing a procedure to donate bone marrow to a sick teenager living in France. This marrow would provide stem cells that would help the teenager, though the specific ailment the boy was suffering from was not disclosed.
Speaking to NJ Advance Media on Tuesday, his father, Willie, said:
“After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed. His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.
“We really don’t know the full story of what happened. We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it.”
His fiancee, parents, and his six-year-old daughter kept a vigil for him in his room at University Hospital until he passed away on Sunday.
Due to his sleep apnea, doctors ultimately decided to use a local anaesthetic as opposed to anaesthesia.
“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 told the high school newspaper prior to the procedure.
On Monday, Mayor Shelley Brindle paid tribute to Nelson in a Facebook post, writing:
“This is a tremendous loss for our community, and I know that our children, and we as parents, will struggle with coming to terms with this over the coming days and weeks. He was a man of immense character and kindness, and his legacy will live on in the generations of students whose lives he touched.”
In addition to this, one of Derrick's friends tweeted about the death. Salm Sivaad, a musician from Atlanta, highlighted the fact that his friend had passed away trying to help someone he didn't know.
“It turns out Derrick’s death was no less heroic, and ultimately tragic,” he tweeted. “My friend died trying to save the life of a child...a total stranger who he’d never met from a foreign land.”
Nelson had recently reenlisted in the Army. His previous military service included assignments in the Middle East, and included a 20 years as an officer in the US Army Reserve.
One student from Westfield High School, the 16-year-old Marcela Avans, spoke about their principal to the school paper following his death:
"I always knew that he was a great man. 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.”
The funeral will be held later this week at St. John’s Baptist Church in Scotch Plains.