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HIANG Couple Defies Odds in Cancer Battle

August 19, 2021

Off the Hawaii Air National Guard Facebook page

The Hawai‘I Air National Guard is no stranger to producing individuals with extraordinary drive and determination.

We know that’s the case with former Staff Sgt. Gabriel Kealoha, whose service in the HIANG ‘Ohana began in 2008 with the 297th Air Traffic Control Squadron. In 2017 he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and left service in February of 2020, when his cancer was considered terminal. By March, doctors told him that he might only have three months left.

Sixteen months later, Gabe is still fighting. Currently receiving a trial treatment in Seattle, Kealoha hopes that his prayers have been answered.

“At the very least, it’s extended my terminal diagnosis,” said Kealoha. “At best, it’s a cure.”

Since leaving the HIANG to seek treatment, Kealoha, a dedicated ninth grade teacher at Aiea High School continued to teach from his hospital bed. He, his wife Shannon, and countless family members and friends have worked tirelessly to sign up almost 7,000 people to be tested for bone marrow or plasma donation. Given Kealoha’s Native Hawaiian background it’s especially important to widen the pool of potential matches. The sentiment was echoed by Dwayne The Rock Johnson earlier this year, who shared Kealoha’s story after it was featured by KC Lund on Hawaii News Now.

“Less than 1% of the registry are Pacific Islanders,” said Shannon Kealoha. “If people don’t step up to save their own, then who will? We need more Hawaiians saving Hawaiians.”

Shannon, who also serves in the HIANG as a Tech. Sgt. paralegal with the 154th Wing’s Staff Judge Advocate, is currently teleworking from Seattle while caring for her husband and their 17-month-old daughter Lily. Kealoha’s recovery is not their only challenge; the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put lives like his at risk.

“It’s scary knowing I live without an immune system in the middle of a world-wide pandemic,” he says. “I’ve learned how important vaccinations, social distancing, and mask-wearing are to the at-risk populations. These practices help people like me, and my daughter Lily. The better our response to the COVID-19 challenges are, the safer it is for everyone.”

On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, Shannon was elated to announce that Gabe’s most recent test results showed that he was cancer free; the marrow transplant is, so far, a success. “The study he is in shows we have at least 3 more years, if not longer,” she said, provided that the cancer does not return.

While Gabe and Shannon celebrate the good news, we ask the HIANG ‘Ohana to keep them in your thoughts.

If you are interested in becoming a bone marrow or plasma donor, please visit or check out Be The Match Hawaii. If you are Native Hawaiian or of Pacific Islander heritage, please pass along the Kealoha’s message to increase the odds of being able to save people like Gabe.

From → Health & Safety

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