N.J. high school principal dies after donating bone marrow to boy

Wednesday - 10/04/2019 20:14
N.J. high school principal dies after donating bone marrow to boy
Man's best friend may have just become his doctor. Buzz60's Tony Spitz has the detail

WESTFIELD, N.J. — A high school principal in New Jersey died after donating bone marrow to a boy in France earlier this year.

Westfield Mayor Shelly Brindle confirmed the death of Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson on the township's website and her Facebook page Monday.

"He was a man of immense character and kindness, and his legacy will live on in the generations of students whose lives he touched," wrote Brindle.

Nelson's family told NJ.com that the 44-year-old educator never regained consciousness after donating bone marrow in February. His father, Willie Nelson, said his son never spoke again.

Nelson's family kept a vigil at Hackensack University Hospital, according to the NJ.com story, but he never came out of his coma.

Nelson is being remembered as "a gift" to the high school and town community.

"As a committed educator he understood that he was a role model at all times," Westfield Superintendent of Schools Margaret Dolan said Tuesday during a news conference. "He knew he was a role model for students, for the staff and for his colleagues and he never forgot that. He was a good man."

Dolan said Nelson, a Plainfield resident who died Sunday, had a strong moral compass that was evident as he worked with staff, and even when dealing with challenging issues involving students. 
 

0bf07a07 a111 49b9 b778 f667f1f233ba Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson
Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson. (Photo: ~File)


Since Nelson’s death, Dolan said she has spoken with students, parents, teachers, custodians, secretaries, counselors and nurses, many offering stories about his caring ways, his infectious laugh or his commitment to his students. She noted the student government is planning a vigil for Nelson.

EARLIER: Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson dies

READ: Derrick Nelson named Westfield High School principal

"I remember how he was forever taking on new challenges, sometimes working to better understand a new curriculum, sometimes looking for ways to improve a complex high school schedule but always with a vision of what Westfield High School could be," said Dolan.

Westfield Superintendent of Schools Dr. Margaret Dolan (Photo: Suzanne Russell/Staff Photo)


She extended condolences to Nelson's parents, fiancee and daughter. Dolan said the family is still working on the funeral arrangements.

"Many of us are struggling with his loss but we are committed to continuing Derrick's legacy. We will set high standards for ourselves as Derrick set for himself. And as Dr. Nelson has done, we will think a little less of ourselves and much more of the others who are around us," Dolan said.

Losing a life to save another 

An online story in February from the Westfield High School student newspaper Hi's Eye indicated Nelson was donating stem cells to save the life of a 14-year-old boy in France. The newspaper story indicated Nelson’s blood was a match for the boy.

In the story, Nelson indicated he donated blood in 1996 as part of a college fraternity blood drive and then learned last fall that it could be a match for a child in France.

The story indicated Nelson initially planned to donate stem cells through bone marrow, but because he acquired sleep apnea when he served in the military, putting him under general anesthesia was considered too dangerous. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder in which people repeatedly stop and start breathing.

With the donation of stem cells through bone marrow ruled out, the student newspaper article indicated Nelson was set to undergo intravenous therapy in which plasma would be separated from the stems cells from the blood taken out of his arm. But that too was ruled out because he carried the sickle cell trait.

The article indicated doctors then decided to use a local anesthetic to remove the bone marrow, while also watching his breathing.

In the Hi's Eye story, Nelson characterized the procedure as giving him a little bit of pain to help someone else.

"It's all worth it," Nelson said in the student newspaper.

The tribute edition 

Westfield High seniors Avery Conrad and Adam Holtzman, who both work on the weekly student newspaper, said they have been working on Friday's four-page edition as a tribute to Nelson since learning of his death.
 

Westfield High School seniors Adam Holtzman and Avery Conrad, who both work on the weekly student newspaper Hi's Eye address media during a news conference about the late Principal Derrick Nelson. (Photo: Suzanne Russell/Staff Photo)


"We have been completely humbled by the responsibility of commemorating Dr. Nelson as well as the response we have received from the Westfield High School community as well as everyone who knew Dr. Nelson," said Conrad, adding the newspaper has reached out to hundreds of his fraternity brothers, school alumni, other principals, people he served with in the Army, friends, peers and college friends who have been happy to share their experiences and memories of Nelson.

"It really shows how much impact he had," said Conrad, the news editor. She said the newspaper won't be able to capture all of Nelson's attributes, but just shine a light on what he meant to everyone.

"This man meant so much to the community, the high school, the town, everyone who knew him. Even if you never spoke a word with him, his impact was felt the moment you walked in as a freshman or the moment you left as a senior  (or) alumni who are in college or beyond that," said Holtzman, a sports editor. "It's really tough right now. We really want to commemorate him and honor his legacy."

Holtzman said this week's edition may be the most important thing they have done at the high school.

Nelson's families  

Dolan said Nelson loved his time with his family and would come into meetings with stories about the latest barbecue or birthday party.

"And he had a smile that only came out when he was talking about his loved ones," Dolan said, adding Nelson was also admired and loved in his community and church.

She said the members of his Omega Psi Phi fraternity also were part of Nelson's family.

"You could not find a more loyal group of men," Dolan said, adding Nelson also  served in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years, including in the Middle East.

Dolan said Nelson had an "honest respect" for everyone and was a great listener who would take in different sides of a story before giving an answer.

"He was thoughtful. He always had that vision of what we were going to do this year and next year and four years from now. That was one of the strengths of his leadership," she said.

Dolan said counselors have been making themselves available at the high school. Any discussion about a new principal is not expected until the school board's April 30 meeting. 

"He's so well respected I'm sure we'll find ways to honor him," Dolan said.

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 Keywords: Derrick Nelson

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