When 29-year-old Awura Sidial came into the Jamaica Performing Arts Center two weeks ago, she said she had not heard about a girl with cancer. Sidial, instead, explained that she just came to donate blood.
“You can just help people and not realize how much of an impact it can make to save someone else’s life,” Sidial said.
She was just the first of many donors who came to the center to help 11-year-old Broadway actress Shannon Tavarez, who has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. After competing against thousands of girls to get the role of Nala, Simba’s female counterpart in the Broadway show “The Lion King,” Tavarez is battling for the survival of herself.
The Bellerose native’s journey with cancer has been difficult. After being diagnosed with AML in April, the search went on to find a possible match. Typical treatments that are usually diagnosed for those with leukemia are chemotherapy, a bone marrow or a core blood transplant. The problem, however, is finding an actual donor. Tavarez is part African American and part Hispanic, both of which are underrepresented nationwide when it comes to finding donors.
“Our focus is to diversify the [blood donor] registry by adding more people to the database because minorities have a very small chance on finding a match because not enough minority donors are registered,” said B.L. Frazer, who is the manager of recruitment in education bone marrow department of the New York Blood Center. “It’s difficult, period, to find a match.”
“There are a lot of myths and conceptions associated with the bone marrow program,” said Frazer, which he says is among one of the many reasons ethnic groups do not donate. To counter the various taboos Frazer said, “If you’re selected, you’re probably the one person in the world that can save that particular individual.”
In order to be considered a qualified donor, candidates complete a DNA cheek swab to determine if the tissue type would be a potential match.
Parents and family members are rarely a match because family members only receive half or less of their genetic makeup, according to Frazer. The greater Jamaica area has a very diverse background of both African American and Hispanic communities, which may increase the chances of Tavarez finding a suitable match.
The young actress is currently recovering after doctors performed an umbilical-cord blood transplant last week. Though her body may reject the treatment she has received, her battle has inspired many others in the fight for bone marrow donors.
Rapper 50 Cent recently hosted a bone marrow drive in South Jamaica where he personally registered himself as a possible donor.
Those who are interested in the Be The Match Registry National Marrow Bone Registry must be in healthy condition and over the age of 18.
For more information on how to register to become a bone marrow donor, go to bethematch.org or call 1(800) 933-2566 for the nearest donation location near you.