Donor sought to save 11-year-old Broadway actress

July 23, 2010 3:51:58 PM PDT
To hear 11-year old Shannon Tavarez sing the Circle of Life, you wouldn't think it's her job, but it is.

Tavarez stars on Broadway, as the young Nala in the Lion King and she can't bear to miss a performance

"She has to run up the stairs and be active. She was going through this, she never told me that my back hurts or my leg hurts. She wanted to be on stage so bad," her mother, Odiney Brown, said.

Last April, doctors diagnosed Shannon with leukemia. Dr. Larry Wolfe, Tavarez' physician, says she will need a bone marrow transplant but hasn't found the perfect match. Wolfe says a partial match has been found but a better one is being sought.

"She always says, 'Smile, you're on Broadway.' So now we're trying to keep her smiling," cast member Joel Karie said.

More than 700 people showed up to a bone marrow donor registration on Friday at the Minskoff Theater, where the show is performed, and hundreds more signed up online. Members of the cast and crew helped the potential donors swab the inside of their cheeks to see if their tissue type matched Tavarez' or anyone else needing a transplant.

The most successful bone marrow matches are between people who share the same ethnic background. Shannon's mother is African American and her father is Hispanic. Minorities and people of mixed ancestry have a harder time finding donors because there aren't as many people from those groups signed up to donate. It's a reality that Shannon's trying to change.

"I hope a lot of people come out because they can save my life or anyone else who's going through what I'm going through," Shannon said.

All of Broadway wants to help. The star of "Billy Elliot" is soliciting donations for Shannon's family, giving donors bracelets that read "Shine for Shannon."

"Just whatever I can do to help, I wanna do," Alex Ko said.

"She's an extraordinary kid and we want to do all that we can so that she can be an extraordinary adult," cast member Enrique Sequra said.

Shannon's mother, too, has been working hard to get as many people as she can to sign up for the registry. She partnered with DKMS on Sunday to hold a midtown Manhattan donor drive, which brought out nearly 400 people. One man drove from Virginia after he read about Shannon in news reports.

But Taylor, who was the DKMS representative at the drive, says it will be weeks before they know if there were any matches.

DKMS donor registry