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Beloved principal dies giving bone marrow to boy he never met

The fiancée of a New Jersey principal who died in April after donating bone marrow to a teen cancer patient in France has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital that conducted the surgery.

In the lawsuit, an anesthesiologist at Hackensack University Medical Center was accused of committing malpractice which resulted in Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson, 44, suffering fatal brain damage. His family alleged medical records detailed how Nelson’s oxygen levels plummeted to 31 percent before doctors gave him oxygen, according to WABC.

“As soon as they put him under the anesthesia for the procedure, his oxygen saturation level began to fall,” family attorney David Mazie said. “It was at 91 percent at the beginning of the procedure, a red flag, and they didn’t stop.”

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NJ.com reported that Nelson slipped into a coma after the procedure and died weeks later. His father told the news outlet that he served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and had re-enlisted shortly before his death.

Prior to the February 18 surgery, Nelson reportedly told the school newspaper that doctors were cautious about using anesthesia due to his sleep apnea and had preferred to collect his stem cells intravenously. Nelson said doctors abandoned that idea and upon learning that he was a carrier for sickle cell anemia.

The complaint, filed Monday by Sheronda Braker, lists Hackensack University Medical Center, the anesthesiologist who performed Nelson’s surgery, and 10 unnamed specialists as defendants. In addition to being Nelson’s fiancée, the pair shared a now-6-year-old daughter.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for negligence, accusing hospital staff of continuing to administer anesthesia as Nelson’s oxygen levels dropped, neglecting to provide adequate ventilation, failing to monitor his oxygen, and not acting quickly as he suffered a “permanent hypoxic injury.”

Thousands attended a vigil for Nelson, and his funeral was so packed that dozens were placed in an overflow room. Moreover, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ordered all flags be flown at half-mast the day of his funeral.

“I’ll never be Mrs. Nelson,” Braker said through tears on Monday, according to NJ.com. “That will never happen. My wedding gown is still at the bridal shop… Nothing will ever bring him back.”

Hackensack Meridian Health issued a statement to KABC in light of Monday’s lawsuit. It read in part:

“We are unable to say more at this time due to the litigation process; however, we have been in communication with the family through their legal representation. It is important to note that the safety of our patients remains our primary focus and we have one of the largest and most experienced transplantation teams in the country.”

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[Featured image: Dr. Derrick Nelson/Westfield Public Schools via AP]