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PostHeaderIcon Lion King Cast Seeks Bone Marrow for Young Star Shannon Tavarez

The cast of “The Lion King,” Disney Theatrical Productions and DKMS Americas, a bone-marrow-donor center, are holding two bone marrow drives in New York City this month. Their mission: find as many eligible donors as possible.

The drive was inspired by a medical case that struck close to home: Shannon Tavarez, an 11-year-old who most recently played young Nala in Disney’s Broadway production of “The Lion King,” was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in April and doctors say a bone-marrow transplant could be her only chance of surviving the cancer.

On July 18 at St. Malachy’s Church in Midtown and July 23 at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, DKMS Americas will register potential donors with a cheek swab, which collects cheek cells to identify a person’s tissue type. Donors can also register online at

If prospective donors match Shannon or other people in need of bone-marrow transplants, the charity will contact the prospective donor for future tests. “My daughter was a healthy, happy kid. This disease is something that could affect anybody and people need to know that it’s actually really simple to save lives by donating bone marrow,” says Odiney Brown, Shannon’s mother.

Finding a donor for Shannon is going to be even harder than for most patients because she comes from a mixed-race background—her mother is African-American and her father is Dominican.

The closer the donor’s genetic makeup is to the patient, the more successful the match is and there is a significant shortage of donors who aren’t Caucasian, says Katharina Harf, executive vice president of New York-based DKMS Americas.

For instance, only 8% of the seven million nationally registered donors are African-American so less than a fifth of African-Americans in need of a transplant will actually receive one, says Ms. Harf, who helped start DKMS Americas four years ago after her own mother died from leukemia.

“Overall, six out of 10 patients will never receive a transplant because they will not find a match,” Ms. Harf says.

“I’ve made it my life’s mission to recruit donors so patients and families don’t have to go through the pain we had to go through.”

Shannon, who’s from Bellerose, Queens, now lives at Schneider Children’s Hospital on Long Island, where she just finished her second dose of chemotherapy treatments.

“The Lion King” was the first show Shannon performed in and her mother says it was difficult for her to leave her acting gig.

“She missed her fifth-grade graduation and had to withdraw from ‘The Lion King,'” says Ms. Brown. She says her daughter, who wants to be an actor and a pediatrician when she is older, is doing well emotionally but that her blood count is too low to leave the hospital.

“She’s hurting, but she’s strong and resilient,” Ms. Brown says.



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