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St. Albans dance center holds marrow donor drive

Fronia and Deron Johnson, the parents of Ahtyana Johnson, hold a photo of their daughter during a fundraising dance show for the teen at Cardozo High School. Ahtyana is in need of a bone marrow transplant. Photo by Christina Santucci
BY IVAN PEREIRA

A southeast Queens dance school is calling on minorities in the neighborhood to help out one of its students who was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

Yevette Sledge of the Jasper Performing Arts Center in St. Albans paid a visit to Community Board 12’s monthly meeting Nov. 17 to talk about Ahtyana Johnson.

The 17-year-old Springfield Gardens resident was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, which affects one in every half million people in the United States, in September and needs a bone marrow transplant, but there are not that many donors who would match the girl because of a shortage of minorities enrolled in the bone marrow banks, according to Sledge.

In response to the shortage, the school is holding a drive Dec. 4 at Majority Baptist Church at 115-21 Farmers Blvd.

“If we don’t get donors now, there is no future,” she told the board.

Johnson has been an active dancer with the school for years and also a star track athlete at Benjamin Cardozo High School, where she is in her senior year, according to her mother, Fronia Johnson. She, her husband and younger daughter were all tested for the procedure, which has a 90 percent success rate, but did not match.

Fronia Johnson said that other relatives and friends have been stepping up to get tested, but they needed more possible donors to take for the cheek swap test.

“Even when you have a bone marrow drive, it’s not just for my kid, it’s for everyone who needs it,” she said.

News of the teen’s diagnosis stunned her family and friends and everyone has been fighting to see that she beats the disease, the mother said. The school held a benefit concert for Johnson this weekend to help raise money for her treatment.

“I think it’s fabulous they are taking the time to get the word out,” Fronia Johnson said.

CB 12 Chairwoman Adoja Gzifa pledged her support and said the board would help spread the word for the effort.

“Health care and health issues in our community are serious,” she said.

Sledge pointed to the story of Shannon Tavarez, an 11-year-old Queens Village girl who appeared in the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” as an example of why more donors were needed. The girl was fighting leukemia for nearly a year and despite a massive outreach effort that included calls from celebrities, she was not able to find a positive donor and died earlier this month.

For more information on the bone marrow drive, call 718-525-2321.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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