High School Principal Derrick Nelson Falls Into Coma, Dies After Donating Bone Marrow To A Boy He Never Met

The exterior of a high school building.
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New Jersey high school principal Derrick Nelson didn’t hesitate when he had the chance to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France who suffered from an undisclosed ailment.

The 44-year-old told his school paper at Westfield High School that it was worth “just a little bit of pain” to help give the boy years of joy. But there was a complication during the procedure and Nelson fell into a coma. After more than a month in the hospital, Nelson died this week surrounded by family members.

As NJ.com noted, the death of the beloved principal has brought an outpouring of condolences from the community. Many saw his final act fitting given that he lived his life in service of others. Nelson had decided to undergo the donation procedure to help the teenage boy and said he was proud to go through with it.

Friends said Nelson had never met the boy but seemed excited to be able to help.

“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,” Nelson had told the student newspaper, hiseye.org. The bone marrow would provide stem cells that could help the teen, he said, though the boy’s ailment was not disclosed.

There were some complications going into the surgery. Nelson told the school paper that he suffered from sleep apnea, so doctors were not able to use anesthesia during the donation procedure. Because Nelson was a carrier for sickle cell anemia, they were also unable to conduct the procedure intravenously. That left one option — undergoing the procedure using just local anesthesia.

There was some kind of complication during the procedure and Nelson fell into a coma. Family members gathered in his hospital room as the condition worsened, holding a vigil and praying he would recover, but Nelson passed away on Sunday.

But those who knew Derrick Nelson were not surprised that he would be willing to undergo a procedure to help a total stranger from a foreign country.

“He was the type of guy to take the shirt off his back and give it to you,” Nelson’s father told NJ.com.

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“He was very good at everything he did. He gave 100 percent of his life to education.”

Derrick Nelson had served as principal at other New Jersey high schools and also served in the military, spending time stationed in the Middle East.