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Lifestyle & Human Interest

Principal Dies After Donating Bone Marrow to Boy Across Globe He'd Never Met

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Sometimes the world simply doesn’t seem fair. Violent people triumph, caring people get ill, and those who try to help others suffer harm — and sometimes even die.

In the Bible, the prophet Habakkuk struggled with this seeming disconnect, wondering where God was in the midst of suffering. He wrote, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

I’m sure that’s a question that the community of Westfield, New Jersey, is feeling. According to Fox News, a popular high school principal passed away while trying to help a total stranger.

When Derrick Nelson, principal of Westfield High School, heard about a 14-year-old French boy who needed a bone marrow transplant, he decided he wanted to help. A donor organization called Be the Match contacted him in late 2018, saying he might be a good match for a sick adolescent.

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Hi’s Eye, Westfield High’s student newspaper, reported that Be the Match discovered Nelson due to a blood donation he’d made in 1996. Nelson immediately wanted to help.

However, he ran into a whole host of problems. An Army veteran, he’d developed sleep apnea, which prevented physicians from putting him under general anesthetic.

Doctors next planned to intravenously harvest stem cells. Yet when they discovered that Nelson carried the trait for sickle cell anemia, they nixed the procedure.

At that point, most people would’ve thrown up their hands and called it a day. Nelson, though, wasn’t most people, and he decided that he wanted to help no matter what.

So medical professionals decided to extract the bone marrow while he was under a local anesthetic. “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 stated.

It would be one of the last things he ever said. The Washington Post reported that he entered a coma after the procedure and never recovered.

Bone marrow donation usually goes off without a hitch. Only 2.4 percent of donors suffer any serious complications, and those rarely include death.

After a month in a coma, Nelson passed away on April 7. His exact cause of death is unknown.

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“We hold him and his family in our hearts as we grieve this loss together, and I know you join me in granting his family the privacy they have requested,” Westfield School District Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan said in a letter to the student body. Gov. Phil Murphy stated, “His final act was one of selflessness.”

Mayor Shelley Brindle wrote, “This is a tremendous loss for our community, and I know that our children, and we as parents, will struggle with coming to terms with this over the coming days and weeks. He was a man of immense character and kindness, and his legacy will live on in the generations of students whose lives he touched.”

His fiance, Sheronda Braker, called him “a tremendous father to our beloved daughter Morgan and the best companion and life partner I could have ever asked for. 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.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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