Updated at 3:35 p.m.
WESTFIELD, NJ — The fiancée of the Westfield High School principal who died from complications following his bone marrow donation to a stranger has sued the hospital at which he gave the donation and an anesthesiologist who oversaw his care.
The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Elizabeth by Dr. Derrick Nelson’s fiancée, Sheronda Braker, on Monday claims that during the Feb. 18 procedure at Hackensack University Medical Center, doctors failed to remedy Dr. Nelson’s hypoxia, which is an abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood.
“As soon as they put him under in the anesthesia, his oxygen saturation began to fall,” David A. Mazie, an attorney representing Braker said at a news conference in Roseland. “It was at 91% at the beginning of the procedure – a red flag – and they didn’t stop, nor did they monitor his oxygen it continued to plummet. It plummeted down to 31% which is barely enough for life.”
The lawsuit names Hackensack University Medical Center, anesthesiologist Jerry Baratta and the John Theurer Cancer Center. Mazie, who was flanked by Dr. Nelson’s family members, said that when the doctors sought to remedy the situation by giving him oxygen they did not give Dr. Nelson enough oxygen.
“These acts of negligence led to Dr. Nelson suffering a severe and permanent hypoxic injury,” the lawsuit claims. “Dr. Nelson ultimately died from the hypoxic brain injury caused by defendants negligence.”
Hackensack University Medical Center spokeswoman Mary Jo Layton declined to comment specifically on the litigation but offered the following statement on Monday.
“He leaves a remarkable legacy as an educator and veteran,” Layton told TAPinto Westfield. “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.”
Under state statute, the defendants will have 30 days from the date of service to file a response but may seek an extension.
Standing with Dr. Nelson’s parents at the news conference, Braker called for justice. “This is justice for our daughter, who is 5-years-old, who does not have her father, who cries for her father,” said Braker, who wiped tears from her face during the news conference.
“Nothing will ever bring him back,” she added. “But we definitely want to make sure this happens to nobody else.”
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Dr. Nelson was 44 years old when he died. A Plainfield resident, he had served in the Army Reserves for over 20 years and as a school administrator in Orange before coming to Westfield Schools in 2010. Dr. Nelson rose to the position of Westfield High School principal in 2017.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, interest and the cost of the lawsuit. New Jersey law does not require that plaintiffs specify the amount of damages in an initial compliant.
While the death happened during a bone marrow donation, Mazie said, it is the anesthesia that led to Dr. Nelson’s death.
“We’ve heard that people have had concerns about donating bone marrow, donating organs,” Mazie said. “That’s not what is at issue here. This certainly about the procedure but primarily about anesthesia.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh