Don Ho Says He Was a 'Goner' Before Stem Cell Procedure

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Legendary Hawaiian crooner Don Ho says he could barely walk, let alone sing, and would have been a "goner" without an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart earlier this month in Thailand.

Ho, known for his signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," said he hopes to return to the stage soon.

"I'm feeling terrific, 100 percent better," Ho told The Associated Press in one of his first interviews since surgery Dec. 6. "I'm ready to go, but I've got to listen to the doctors.

"When they say my heart is strong enough to get excited, I'm on."

The 75-year-old singer underwent a new treatment that hasn't 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 it.

"It was my last hope," said Ho, who suffers from nonischemic cardiomyopathy — a weakened heart muscle not due to blockages in the coronary arteries.

The experimental procedure he 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. The therapy was supervised by Dr. Amit Patel, a heart surgeon from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Ho found out about it on the Internet.

"I knew that if I didn't take things into my own hand, I would've been a goner," he said.

His heart problems had been affecting him for about a year. He had a pacemaker implanted a few months ago, but still felt weak and tired after a few steps. Before the surgery, Ho said, his heart was operating at only 25 percent.

"You can't fight Mother Nature. When you reach a certain age and you don't really take care of yourself, then she's going to give you a little signal," Ho said.

Ho has entertained tourists for more than four decades and hosted the "The Don Ho Show" on ABC in 1976-77.

He said his perspective on life has changed dramatically since the procedure. He now savors all the little things in life, like watching his children decorate the Christmas tree.

He also plans to continue entertaining in Waikiki.

"A lot of people out there come every year to get their 'Tiny Bubbles' fix," he said. "So as long as they keep coming, I might as well keep doing it.

"I retired about 40 years ago. I'm just having fun."