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Principal's Selfless Act May Have Cost Him His Life

New Jersey high school principal lapsed into coma, died after donating bone marrow
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2019 2:30 PM CDT
   (Getty Images / nimon_t)

(Newser) – "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." That's what Dr. Derrick Nelson told the student newspaper at Westfield High School, where he was principal, just before he underwent a procedure to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy. But after the procedure in February, the New Jersey 44-year-old lapsed into a coma and never recovered. He died Sunday, NJ.com reports. "We really don’t know the full story of what happened," his father says. "We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it." Bone marrow donation is considered extremely low-risk, the Washington Post reports, with just 2.4% of donors experiencing serious complications. "His last kind and generous act on this earth in giving so someone else might live is a true testament to who he was and how he should always be remembered," said Nelson's fiancee in a statement.

Nelson found out he was a match for the boy, who lives in France, after being contacted by the National Marrow Donor Program's Be the Match. He told the student newspaper that due to sleep apnea he developed during his time in the military, it would be too dangerous to put him under general anesthesia, and since he's a carrier for sickle cell anemia, doctors also couldn't harvest stem cells intravenously. Ultimately, he was put under local anesthesia as doctors extracted the bone marrow. He also leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter, plus many grieving students. "I just always remember him with a smile on his face at the games and he was very energetic," says one junior. "He was different from any other principal I’ve ever had." A petition sprung up in the wake of his death calling for the high school to be renamed in his honor. (This bone marrow story had a happy ending.)

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