Broadway star needs bone marrow transplant

For 11-year-old Shannon Tavarez, who starred in Broadway’s "The Lion King,” her best chance of survival is getting a bone marrow transplant.

The young actress from Bellerose landed the role of lion cub Young Nala last fall in her first professional audition. Tavarez played the part for just over six months until she got sick in March.

It wasn’t until a month later that she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that creates a rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow, the soft inner part of the bones, and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.

            “I was in total shock,” said her mom, Odiney Brown, 38, who still recalls the dreadful morning of April 21. “I was completely numb when the doctor told us.”

            Since then, Tavarez finished her fifth grade at Public School 176 in Cambria Heights, while getting chemotherapy at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, L.I.

            “For someone who was always moving, it is really hard for her to have to sit still,” said Brown of her only child.

Now the focus is to find a bone marrow match for Tavarez. But that will be difficult task because her mom is African-American and her dad is Hispanic from the Dominican Republic. Both groups are underrepresented in donor registries and finding donors from Tavarez’ race and ethnicity are key factors in getting a match. Only seventeen percent of African-Americans find a match.

 “She is such an extraordinary person,” said Katharina Harf, executive vice president of donor center DKMS America. “She is full of life. If you see someone so young like her, you think, ‘that is not fair.’ It just breaks people’s heart.”

DKMS is having a bone marrow donor drive for Tavarez on Sunday, July 18 at St. Malachy’s- The Actors’ Chapel at 239 West 49th Street in the Theater District, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. "The Lion King” cast and crew members will take part in another donor drive on Friday, July 23 at the show’s theater, the Minskoff at 200 West 45th Street, from 10 a.m to 3 p.m.

“I hope that we do find a match for her,” said her mom, a city Human Resources Administration worker. “I really hope that more blacks and Latinos and people of mix race understand that this is something that can affect anyone at anytime.”

Some people think that the test for compatibility is painful, but all it really takes to get started is a cotton swab of the inside of the cheek, Harf said. So far, in that past three weeks more than 1,000 people have registered to donate online.

“They can save a life,” Harf said, “Shannon’s or another person’s.”

For more information, visit: www.MatchShannon.com or www.GetSwabbed.com.


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