Shannon Tavarez, who starred as Nala on the Broadway adaptation of ‘The Lion King’, passed away this Monday. The child actress spent seven months performing in the show before she was diagnosed with leukemia, from which she eventually died.
Ms. Tavarez was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, which is a rapidly advancing form of cancer that is rare among children. The cancer develops in the bone marrow and inhibits the production of healthy blood cells.
Earlier this year Ms. Tavarez was unable to find a suitable bone marrow donor. In response to this, a number of entertainers, including Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent, called upon their fans to register as potential donors.
Ms. Tavarez had an umbilical-cord blood transplant in August. This procedure involves harvesting stem cells from a donated umbilical cord and injecting them into the patient to stimulate the formation of a new, healthy blood system.
Because of the minor prevalence of this disease among children, there is a stark underrepresentation of bone marrow donors that are suitable for young donors. Black and Hispanic people also have more different tissue types than white people, making the matching process between donor and patient more difficult. This is especially true for people of mixed ethnicity, which Shannon was.
Ms. Tavarez was born on January 20, 1999 was chosen for the part of Nala in 2008, among hundreds of other auditioning children. Ron Vodicka, the production stage manager, said, “She was fearless, as a performer and as a young woman.”