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Family’s search for bone marrow donors in cancer fight captures attention of ‘The Rock’

Published: Jun. 20, 2021 at 10:19 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 12:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This Father’s Day, one Hawaii family is praying for a miracle and calling on Native Hawaiians and others of Polynesian descent to step up as potential bone marrow donors.

The Kealohas aren’t just fighting for their ohana but so many others as well.

”My type of cancer is terminal if you get it the second time,” said Gabriel Kealoha, as he sits in a Seattle hospital room with his wife, Shannon, and 15-month-old daughter.

The family is running out of time and options.

In 2017, Gabriel Kealoha — a beloved father, husband, firefighter, veteran and elementary school teacher — was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

It’s an aggressive blood cancer that turns a person’s white blood cells toxic.

Kealoha’s doctors treated it into remission, but it came back.

”When it came, the doctors were more pessimistic. They said the reality is there is a less than 10% chance,” Kealoha said. “Everything we do is experimental and what usually happens is we give you treatment and your body stops responding to it.”

The outlook is grim, but there’s also hope.

”As it is right now, a bone marrow transplant is the standard cure and without the donor, we have zero chance,” he added.

Finding a donor that is a blood marrow match is difficult under normal circumstances. But Kealoha is Hawaiian, which makes it even tougher.

”Less than 1% of Pacific Islanders, including Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Filipino are on the national donor registry and the registry is about 9 million potential donors in the U.S.,” said Nainoa Wong, of Be The Match Hawaii, the local branch of the country’s primary bone marrow donor registry.

This young family has taken up a cause not just for Gabriel Kealoha but others like him.

They have organized donor drives here in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, where Kealoha also served in the Air National Guard.

Right now, the family is in Seattle for treatment and there is good news: They have found a donor but aren’t out of the woods yet and are using their experience to help others.

”We are just trying to focus on helping even if it doesn’t help me directly it will help other people get through what we have been going through,” said Kealoha.

Kealoha’s wife convinced him that getting the word out on social media could help more Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders to get on the registry.

”You only have so many friends and family members that can you know spread the word. We don’t have friends and family that go viral; we are a pretty small and tight knit. We don’t have ‘The Rock’ to help us out but if we did, that would be amazing,” said Shannon Kealoha, with a laugh.

Gabriel Kealoha’s story did later capture the attention of Hawaii’s Hollywood juggernaut Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In a tweet, Johnson called Kealoha a “fighter” and said he was happy to help.

It has been said by those close to him that Kealoha does bear a striking resemblance to Johnson.

It has been said by those close to him that Gabriel does bear a striking resemblance to...
It has been said by those close to him that Gabriel does bear a striking resemblance to Hawaii's Hollywood juggernaut Dwayne the Rock Johnson.(Shannon Kealoha)

”Just be a donor. It will be save other people’s lives like my husband, maybe my daughter one day and anyone else that we don’t know,” added Shannon Kealoha.

The couple is asking Pacific Islanders to visit www.bethematchhawaii.org to register as a possible donor.

You can also go to a donor drive at the Pearl Country Club in Aiea on June 30.

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