HONOLULU – Legendary Hawaiian croonerDon Ho was recovering Tuesday at a hospital in Thailand after undergoing an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart.
Ho, 75, known for his signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," underwent a new treatment 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, according to Ed Brown, a close friend.
After the treatment, Ho's vital signs were excellent, but he remained seriously ill and was in the hospital's intensive care unit, Brown said in a telephone interview from his home in Malibu, Calif.
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.
"He felt well enough, but his pacer sometimes would go off in his chest and scare the hell out of him," Brown said. "That's a difficult thing to live with right in the middle of 'Tiny Bubbles.'"
Ho spokeswoman Donna Jung said Ho hopes to return to the stage soon. He is expected to return from Bangkok in about two weeks.
The procedure Ho underwent was developed by TheraVitae Co., which has offices in Thailand and laboratories in Israel, where Ho's stem cells were sent to be multiplied.
Dr. Robb MacLellan, associate professor of cardiology at the University of California at Los Angeles, said a similar stem cell treatment has been used in Europe for a couple of years. Studies approved by the Food and Drug Administration are being conducted in the United States.
Besides "Tiny Bubbles," Ho's other hits include "I'll Remember You," "With All My Love" and the "Hawaiian Wedding Song."