HONOLULU – Legendary Hawaiian crooner Don Ho on Thursday said he's feeling much better and may return home to the islands within a few days.
Ho, known for his signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," remained at a Thailand hospital recovering from an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart. He was moved out of intensive care Wednesday.
"I'm feeling much better and I'm so happy I came up here to do it," the 75-year-old Ho said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to coming home."
A Thursday photo released by his Honolulu publicist Donna Jung shows a shirtless, baseball cap-wearing Ho smiling and waving a Hawaiian "shaka" hang-loose sign from his hospital bed in Bangkok. It also shows a big red heart-shaped pillow, several tubes attached to his body and Ho wearing his trademark raspberry-tinted sunglasses.
"Tell my fans to stay healthy," he said. "I'm ready to go another 50 years."
Ho may return to Hawaii within a few days, much earlier than planned.
Dr. Amit Patel, a heart surgeon from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who oversaw the procedure in Bangkok, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Ho singing before Christmas.
Ho underwent a new treatment Tuesday that has not been approved in the United States. It involves multiplying stem cells taken from his blood and injecting them into his heart in hopes of strengthening the organ.
Patel said Ho was one among the first patients with nonischemic cardiomyopathy — a weakened heart muscle not due to blockages in the coronary arteries — selected for the VesCell adult stem cell therapy.
The singer had "an extremely weak" heart that was pumping far less blood than a healthy organ before the surgery, his doctor said.
Ho, who has entertained tourists for more than four decades, has suffered from heart problems for about a year and had a pacemaker implanted a few months ago.
In August, Ho was admitted to a hospital with shortness of breath. He was treated for an abnormal heart rhythm and released after three days. He soon returned to his Waikiki show on a reduced schedule.
The experimental procedure was developed by TheraVitae Co., which has offices in Thailand and laboratories in Israel, where Ho's stem cells were sent to be multiplied. The surgery costs roughly $30,000.