Travis colonel gives of himself to aid unknown pre-leukemia patient

Originally published in The Reporter on November 23, 2016 By Kimberly K. Fu

Kimberly K. Fu — The Reporter Col. Shane Wehunt, commander of the 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, discusses the bone marrow donor registration process, being a match and undergoing the medical treatments necessary to help an anonymous pre-leukemia patient.

A dusty declaration revisited a Travis airman a few months back and relegated him to a hospital bed in recent weeks, IV needles stuck in both arms.
But Col. Shane Wehunt, commander of the 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, explains that he’s fine — he was simply providing lifesaving white blood cells to an anonymous pre-leukemia patient.
Talk about service above self.
Wehunt, a married father of three, marks his 30th anniversary with the Air Force next July.
He’s always been service oriented, he said, and is ever ready to lend a hand.
For the family, it’s their way of life. His son is stationed at Travis as a C-17 loadmaster (Wehunt is charged with ensuring the C-17s are fixed), his wife works on base in a civilian capacity, his older daughter is stationed at another base and his youngest daughter hopes to attend the Air Force Academy.
So when an opportunity presented itself four years ago, he accepted without a thought.
Attending a school at the time, Wehunt happened on an informational table for the National Marrow Donor Program. He chatted up the folks manning the table, learned how donors could save lives and signed up for the registry.
“My mother had passed away of cancer four years before that. She had struggled for nine years,” he remembered. “I had the opportunity to provide somebody, anybody, the chance not to go through what my mom went through.”
He filled out a questionnaire and had his mouth swabbed.
“It literally took me about five minutes,” he said.
Then, he went back to his life.
He knew that, if ever he was matched with someone, he would be notified. That notification came just a few months ago.
The initial notice was that he was matched, the final stated he was the best match. Though some loved ones were fearful that donating would cause unbearable pain, he shared, walking away was never an option.
“Seeing what my mom went through, I knew there was no degree of pain that would eclipse what my mom went through,” the colonel said.
Earlier this month, he checked in to the Alta Bates Comprehensive Cancer Center in Berkeley and underwent a battery of tests and procedures before readying for a bone marrow donation. Except, it was ultimately decided that another treatment, a donation of white blood cells, would be best.
Wehunt had outpatient treatment first — daily shots in his hip and leg bones to increase his white blood cell count.
“I had a really bad bone ache but no pain,” he recalled. “So for four days I was sitting in a hotel in Berkeley feeling really yucky.”
He entered the hospital when it was time to have the cells taken — a seven-hour procedure moving his blood through tubing, having it separated into parts and the white blood cells removed.
The procedure and everything that came with it was free, he said.
He has no idea who he helped, except that she’s 52 and has been diagnosed with pre-leukemia.
Wehunt said he would, without a doubt, donate again.
“It isn’t about me. It’s about the program and the registry,” he emphasized. “It’s about humanity.”
He pointed out that many have misconceptions about the registration and donor processes and that more awareness needs to be done.
“There are matches walking all over as people in need are dying,” he said.
The commander is in the early stages of getting a registration drive set up on base.
“If I can get 100 people to get on the registry and get one match out of it, it’s worth it,” he said.
To learn more or to register, visit
 Kimberly K. Fu
Veteran newshound with @vacareporter, traded crime & adrenaline for the municipalities of Vacaville & Dixon. Kept the black coffee and occasional cigar.