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Queens Village’s ‘Lion King’ star succumbs to leukemia

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The 11-year-old Queens Village star of “The Lion King” whose battle against leukemia touched off a celebrity rally for bone marrow donors died Monday, a spokeswoman for Disney said.

Shannon Tavarez, who played Nala in “The Lion King” musical on Broadway, died while fighting the disease at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, according to Adriana Douzos, a spokeswoman for Disney, which produces the show.

The girl could not find an appropriate bone marrow donor for the life-saving procedure despite a successful umbilical cord blood transfusion procedure that was conducted over the summer. The marquee lights of Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, which is home to the musical that was based on the 1994 Disney animated film of the same name, were dimmed Tuesday in memory of Shannon.

In a statement, her family thanked the Broadway community for its support during the girl’s seven-month battle against cancer.

“Shannon’s strength and her happy, positive spirit will live on in our hearts and minds each day. Shannon’s dream was to perform on stage, and that she did,” they said.

The girl was a student at the Harlem School for Arts and played the young lion cub in the show from September 2009 to April, when she was diagnosed.

Shannon’s heritage posed a problem for her as she sought a donor to battle the leukemia. The half black, half Dominican girl had trouble finding a match not only because there is a shortage of donors from minorities but also from people of mixed-race ancestry.

Shannon’s predicament garnered attention all over the world and she had help from some big names. Singers Rihanna, Alicia Keys and rapper 50 Cent, a Jamaica native, promoted bone marrow drives to help the girl. The initiative registered 10,000 donors, the Associated Press reported.

The stars kept in close contact with Shannon and provided her with support during her battle.

In August, doctors said they were hopeful that her umbilical cord blood transfusion would help fight the cancer. The blood from umbilical cords was used for stem cells that would transform into healthy blood cells for Shannon’s body.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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