New Jersey high school principal dies after donating bone marrow to teenager

WESTFIELD, NJ (WABC/CNN) - A New Jersey school district is mourning after the unexpected death of a high school principal and father who recently donated bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy.

School officials announced Monday the death of 44-year-old Dr. Derrick Nelson. Details were not released, but a parent said the Westfield High School principal died after going to the hospital to donate bone marrow.

According to the school newspaper, Nelson agreed to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France last month. He didn’t know the teenager, but they were a perfect match.

Dr. Derrick Nelson, 44, became the Westfield High principal in 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years. (Source: Nelson Family/WABC/CNN)
Dr. Derrick Nelson, 44, became the Westfield High principal in 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years. (Source: Nelson Family/WABC/CNN) (Source: Nelson Family/WABC/CNN)

It is not yet clear whether that operation had anything to do with Nelson’s sudden death. Nelson had reportedly fallen into a coma earlier this year.

“He was a man who carried himself with dignity, courage and compassion. 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,” said Nelson’s fiancée Sheronda Braker in a statement.

Nelson became the Westfield High principal in 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years and earned his doctorate in education administration from Seton Hall University.

Journalists with the school newspaper are gathering every achievement, every loving memory and every quote that will tell as much of the story as possible about the much-admired man.

"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,” said student journalist and senior Adam Holtzman.

The community deeply and sorely misses Nelson, who dedicated his life to serving others.

“One custodian spoke about the fact he looks at all of us the same. He saw all of us the same, so, that respect came through,” said Westfield School Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan.

Nelson is survived by Braker, his 6-year-old daughter Morgan and his parents, Willie and Juanita Nelson, in addition to the thousands of young lives he helped nurture.

“It’s really tough right now, and we want to commemorate him and honor his legacy,” Holtzman said.

Grief counselors are available for students at the school.

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