A high school principal fell into a month-long coma and died on Sunday after selflessly donating his bone marrow to save the life of a teenager in France.
Derrick Nelson, who worked at Westfield High School in New Jersey, had the procedure at a Bergen County hospital in February, his family told NJ.com.
“After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed,” his father, Willie Nelson, told the news outlet. “His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.”
“We really don’t know the full story of what happened,” he added. “We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it.”
His fiancée, Sheronda Braker, told CNN that he “was a tremendous father to our beloved daughter Morgan and the best companion and life partner I could have ever asked for.”
“He loved his family almost beyond belief. He was a man who carried himself with dignity, courage and compassion,” she continued. “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. We will always love him.”
According to the school newspaper, Nelson donated blood during college in 1996 — and it wasn’t until 2018 that he got the call he might be able to save a life.
Be the Match, a national bone marrow donor program, contacted Nelson in October and told him that he could be a match for a 14-year-old boy. Just a few months later, he went through with it.
The process to extract the bone marrow was rough, he told the student newspaper, but “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.”
Shelley Brindle, the mayor of Westfield, wrote on Facebook that “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.”
Junior Daniel Peterson told CBS that Nelson “was very easy to talk to and he pushed family values at assemblies or saw you in the hall. Now that he’s gone, it feels like part of the community is gone.”
A vigil will be held at Westfield High School on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. and funeral services will be on Tuesday at 11 a.m., according to the Plinton Curry Funeral Home.
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