Broadway Star Inspires Others to Donate Bone Marrow


The New York Daily News reports that caring New Yorkers have come out in record numbers to support a young Broadway star in her fight with leukemia. About 385 people registered Sunday to become bone marrow donors in the basement of St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church in the theater district.

Shannon Tavarez, 11 and from Queens, made her Broadway debut last fall as Young Nala in the Disney musical “The Lion King.” She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in April of this year.

Shannon’s best shot at recovering and returning to the theater is a bone marrow transplant, which requires a genetic match. One of the greatest obstacles is her ethnicity. Patients are most likely to match with a donor who shares a similar racial or ethnic background. Shannon’s mom is African-American and her dad is Hispanic. Both groups are underrepresented in bone marrow registries.


The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) has declared July as African-American Bone Marrow Awareness Month to raise awareness about the critical need for African-Americans to join the national registry. Only 7% of the 8 million potential donors on the national registry are African-American.

Perhaps the greatest reason people do not register to donate bone marrow is the myth that the screening procedure or the donation itself involve painful surgeries. Screening involves a simple mouth swab to collect cells. If you are found to be a match, the donation can be collected through Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC), in which the donor’s blood is removed from one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.

There can be uncomfortable but short-lived side effects of donating PBSC. Due to taking a drug called filgrastim for five days leading up to donation, PBSC donors may have headaches, joint or muscle aches, or fatigue. PBSC donors are typically back to their normal routine in one to two days.

Donor center DKMS Americas will stage another drive Friday at the Minskoff Theatre, the Broadway home of "The Lion King.” People can also register online at and have a donor kit mailed to them free of charge.