Principal dies after donating bone marrow to a teen stranger

Westfield, N.J. — A New Jersey high school principal who went into a coma after he donated bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France has died. Family members tell that Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson underwent the donation procedure at a hospital in February.

They say the 44-year-old couldn’t speak or move afterward, and remained in that condition until he died on Sunday. Nelson’s father says it’s still not clear what happened to his son, who was the father of a 6-year-old girl.

Bone marrow donation is considered to be generally very safe, but the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) says “no medical procedure is risk-free.” According to NMDP, nearly 99 percent of marrow donors feel completely recovered within a few weeks. A very small percentage of donors — about 2.4% — experience serious complications due to anesthesia or damage to bone, nerve, or muscle in their hip region.

Friends say Nelson didn’t know the French teen he was trying to help.

The Westfield, New Jersey community is taking the loss of its principal at the high school hard.

Nelson, 44, had served as principal since February of 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School (Roosevelt Intermediate School) since 2010. He has been described as a man with immense character and who was selfless, having served in the Army Reserve for more than 20 years.

“He lived his life with daily acts of selflessness and kindness, so it’s a tremendous loss and people are reeling from it,” Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle told CBS New York. “And my own kids will tell you about his humor in the hallways. He had this great sense of incredible, or incredible respect from the students. He was so beloved by so many. He just lived a life of service above self and I think there is a lesson that we’re all going to take away from his untimely passing that hopefully we can apply to our own lives.”

School Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan said Nelson was “a gift to Westfield High School.”

“He had a strong moral compass, perhaps strongest moral compass I have ever experienced,” Dolan said.

Nelson is survived by his parents, fiance, and 6-year-old daughter. The school will have counselors on hand this week to speak with students and parents about how to deal with death.

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