In February, Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson, 44, underwent surgery to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France. The procedure resulted in a month-long coma. NJ.Com reported that on Sunday, Nelson died.
“After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed,” his father, 81-year-old Willie Nelson said. “His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.”
Nelson and his wife, Juanita, who is also 81, stayed with their son’s fiané, Sheronda and the couple’s daughter, who is 6-years-old, at the hospital for weeks.
“We really don’t know the full story of what happened,” Willie Nelson said. “We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it.”
Just before his surgery, Derrick Nelson talked about wanting to help the sick teen in France during 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,” Nelson said. Nelson also told the paper that he had sleep apnea, so doctors had concerns about using anesthesia. Nelson was also a carrier for sickle cell anemia so stem cells could not be harvested intravenously. Doctors eventually decided to do the surgery with a local anesthetic.
After his death, Westfield High School students reflected on their principal’s life.
"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,” said Marcela Avans a junior at Westfield High School. “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.”
Before becoming the school’s principal, Nelson served in the U.S. Army Reserve for over 20 years and had been an assistant principal at two public schools.
“Dr. Nelson touched us all with his kindness, compassion, integrity, and endlessly positive attitude,” Westfield School District Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan said in a letter to parents.
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