Broadway’s Shannon Tavarez Loses Battle With Leukemia
Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old Broadway actress who inspired many New Yorkers to become bone marrow donors, has lost her battle with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Tavarez starred as Young Nala in the Disney musical “The Lion King” before being forced to quit in April due to her illness.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (also called acute myelogenous leukemia) is a cancer that starts inside the bone marrow and grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells. It is relatively rare, accounting for approximately 1.2% of cancer deaths in the US. Five-year survival rate ranges from 15 to 70%, depending on a variety of factors.
Although a bone marrow transplant was her best shot at beating the aggressive cancer, a match could not be found in part because minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time receiving transplants because there aren’t as many signed up as potential donors. Shannon’s mother is African-American and her father, Hispanic from the Dominican Republic. As an alternative, Tavarez received an umbilical cord blood transplant instead.
Tavarez had also undergone extensive chemotherapy treatments and had recently been struggling to stabilize in an intensive care unit, according to the New York Daily News.
Katharina Harf, co-founder of the bone marrow donor center DKMS confirmed that Tavarez died on Monday at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park on Long Island where she had been treated.
Shannon first caught national attention when the New York Daily News reported in July that about 385 people registered at St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church in NYC’s theater district to become bone marrow donors in an effort to find a match for the young star. Another drive was held by DKMS at the Minskoff Theatre, the Broadway home of “The Lion King.” Celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and 50 Cent campaigned on Tavarez’ behalf.
In all, more than 8,000 people around the country signed up as bone marrow donors in her name.
According to the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping patients receive transplants, more than 10.000 patients in the United States are diagnosed each year with life-threatening diseases for which the best option for a cure is a bone marrow transplant. About 83% of African American patients in need do not find matches after six months of searching.
"Shannon's bright smile, amazing talent, and courage will continue to inspire us in our efforts," the New York Blood Center said in a statement.
For more on how you can register to become a bone marrow donor, please visit www.dkmsamericas.org.