‘Lion King’ Actress Dies From Leukemia

Ula Ilnytzky, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), November 2, 2010

Shannon Tavarez, the 11-year-old who starred on Broadway in “The Lion King” and whose battle with leukemia won the hearts of many, including Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent, has died.

Shannon died Monday afternoon at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, on Long Island, of acute myelogenous leukemia, a common type of leukemia among adults, but rare among children.

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Shannon, who played the young lion Nala, had received an umbilical-cord blood transplant in August. The procedure was performed as an alternative to a bone marrow transplant. Her doctor, Dr. Larry Wolfe, said that a perfect bone marrow match for Shannon could not be found.

The search for a match was especially daunting because Shannon’s mother is African-American and her father is Hispanic, from the Dominican Republic. For bone marrow transplants, minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time finding good matches because there aren’t as many people from those groups signed up as potential donors. Right now, 83 percent of African-American patients who need marrow transplants don’t find matches after six months of searching, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping patients receive transplants.

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