High School Principal Dies While Donating Bone Marrow. What is Bone Marrow & How Did This Happen?


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

A 44-year-old high school principal and father to a six-year-old recently died after donating bone marrow. His name was Derrick Nelson, and his fiancé said he suffered complications after the donation, according to this CNN report.

Another report says Nelson went into a coma during the procedure, but the family doesn’t know the exact cause of death. His father said he may have suffered a heart attack. Donating bone marrow is a surgical procedure in which the person who is donating is given anesthesia.

Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of most bones. It makes white blood cells (which fight infections), red blood cells (which carry oxygen to tissues in the body) and platelets (which help your body form clots to stop bleeding).

So clearly, sufficient amounts of healthy bone marrow is something we all need to stay healthy.

But there are a variety of diseases that can affect the bone marrow.

Bone marrow contains stem cells, which then develop into the blood cells and platelets. With bone marrow disease, there are issues with the stem cells or how they develop.

“In a person with leukemia, for example, the bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. Unlike normal blood cells, leukemia cells don't die when they should. They may crowd out normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, making it difficult for normal blood cells to do their work,” (John Hopkins Medicine).

Another example of a disease affecting bone marrow is lymphoma (a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system). With lymphoma, the cancer can spread into the bone marrow and affect the production of blood cells.

(You can read about many other diseases that may affect bone marrow health, here).

Reportedly, in the United States each year nearly 17,500 people (between the ages of 0-74) are diagnosed with a serious disease in which a bone marrow transplant or an umbilical cord blood transplant is needed.

And a person who needs a bone marrow transplant cannot just take any bone marrow that is donated. The patient and donor need to be a match, and it’s actually more difficult than matching blood types.

Nelson donated his blood marrow hoping that he would be a match and could save the life of a 14-year-old boy in France who needed a transplant. Unfortunately, for reasons we don’t exactly know yet, it ended up costing Nelson his life.

How can we be proactive?

I think before undergoing any surgical procedure, it is absolutely imperative that you make sure you are in good health so that your body can withstand the surgery. I’m not saying that Nelson did not do this and that doctors went through the procedure without making sure he was healthy enough. It sounds like this was just a very unfortunate and tragic incident. However, if you have heart problems, high blood pressure or are overweight or obese you may not be able to be a bone marrow donor. In fact, if you have heart disease or have had a heart attack in the past it appears that you cannot be a donor, according to these medical guidelines for becoming a bone marrow donor.

If you successfully donate your bone marrow or receive a bone marrow transplant, you need to also be proactive about recovery.

And one of the best ways to recover is through good nutrition.

If you are a donor, you can expect your marrow to return to normal levels within a few weeks. But talk to your doctor about your diet and getting an adequate intake of nutrients that may be able to increase your red blood cell count. You also want to avoid anemia, which is why it is so important to be aware of your nutrient intake.

“If a lack of nutrients causes anemia, doctors may prescribe supplements. These include iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12. These supplements are usually pills taken by mouth. Occasionally, you may receive a vitamin B12 injection. This may help the body absorb the vitamin,” according to this source.

And for those who are receiving a bone marrow transplant, good nutrition, of course, is extremely important.

“Good nutrition is a factor in your recovery from bone marrow transplantation. When you are unable to eat a balanced diet [maybe you are sick and not feeling well], supplements can be helpful,” reports the Cleveland Clinic.

You can read about specific nutrients that may help with your white blood cells (the immune system cells), here.

Whether you are a donor or the person receiving the transplant, I would also highly advise considering vitamin drip therapy. I utilize this method of maintaining good nutrition (along with eating healthily) often, especially as I age, to replace lost vitamins and minerals and help boost my nutritional status.

Yes, people eat bone marrow.

Before you turn your nose up, it’s from animal bones and adds very rich flavor to soups and broths.

“A University of Michigan-led study shows that the fat tissue in bone marrow is a significant source of the hormone adiponectin, which helps maintain insulin sensitivity, break down fat, and has been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity-associated cancers,” according to this report discussing the study.

Reportedly, bone marrow is an ingredient that has been used for thousands of years. It also contains essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, iron, vitamin E, phosphorus and more.

Something to consider, unless you are vegan or perhaps vegetarian.

Have you ever donated bone marrow or received a transplant? Feel free to share your story with us.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.   



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