A selfless act of kindness by Westfield High School (NJ) Principal Derrick Nelson to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France led to the month long coma that ultimately took his life Sunday, according to his family.
Nelson, 44, underwent the donation procedure at a Bergen County hospital in February, his 81-year-old father Willie Nelson said Tuesday in an interview with NJ Advance Media.
“After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed,” his father, 81, said. “His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.”
Nelson said he and his wife, Juanita, also 81, his son’s fiancé, Sheronda, and the couple’s 6-year-old daughter kept vigil at his room at Hackensack University Hospital for weeks, hoping he would recover. Nelson died Sunday.
At Westfield High School on Tuesday, students recalled the beloved principal for his selfless act and compassion.
"I always knew that he was a great man. He was the type of man that used authority but was still such an approachable man. I can’t name a single person that didn’t like him,” said Marcela Avans a 16-year-old junior at Westfield High School. “When I found out that he was first ill, it broke my heart because he was helping someone, but it really made me respect him and appreciate his service to the community even more.”
Nelson’s grieving parents said they plan to have a funeral later this week at St. John’s Baptist Church in Scotch Plains. They said they would try to finalize and announce services later Tuesday.
Nelson served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years and had recently re-enlisted, his father said. His military service included an assignment in the Middle East, school officials have said.
An online petition has been started to rename Westfield High School in the memory of Principal Derrick Nelson. You ca sign the petition here: Change the name of Westfield high school to Derrick Nelson high school