DON HO UNDERGOES HEART TREATMENT
Ho doing well after Thai procedure
The experimental treatment uses the patient's own stem cells
Staff and wire reports
Don Ho has undergone an experimental stem-cell treatment on his ailing heart and is recovering in a hospital in Thailand.
The legendary entertainer, 75, underwent a procedure involving the injection of his own stem cells into his heart muscle on Monday in Bangkok, his friend and business associate Ed Brown said yesterday.
"The results were exactly what everyone hoped for," Brown said.
"He's in ICU now, but he's feeling wonderful, his vital signs are perfect, and no one could be happier than the physicians."
The new medical procedure -- VesCell Adult Stem Cell therapy -- is not yet approved in the United States. The treatment consists of the removal of stem cells from a patient's blood, allowing them to multiply and later injecting them into the heart or arteries, in hopes of regeneration. It's an alternative to removing stem cells from human fetuses.
"To say that Don is an early pioneer is an understatement because there are only approximately 10 others who have received treatment in America, other than those who have pioneered the treatment in Bangkok," Brown said in a telephone interview from his home in Malibu, Calif.
Ho has suffered from heart problems for about a year and had a pacemaker installed a few months ago. He was hospitalized for three days with shortness of breath in August.
Although he returned to his show at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, he overextended himself, Brown said. "He felt well enough, but his pacer sometimes would go off in his chest and scare the hell out of him. That's a difficult thing to live with right in the middle of 'Tiny Bubbles.'"
He had been hospitalized since late November, until he was well enough to travel to Thailand on Saturday , Brown said.
VesCell therapy is considered experimental and is meant to be considered only after solutions such as angioplasty and bypass surgery have been ruled out.
Brown confirmed that Ho had reached that point. Now he's talking about the future. "All he's talking about is the lineup for the show, and how he wants the lights and sound and that sort of thing. He's in a very positive frame of mind."
Ho is expected to return to Honolulu from Bangkok in about two weeks.
Besides "Tiny Bubbles," Ho's other hits include "I'll Remember You," "With All My Love" and the "Hawaiian Wedding Song."
Staff writer John Berger and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Stem-cell treatment used for heart care
The VesCell Adult Stem Cell Therapy involves harvesting cells from a patient's bone marrow or blood and injecting them back into the heart to replace dead or injured heart muscle cells.
Dr. Ralph Shohet, a molecular cardiologist at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, said there is a lot of excitement in the medical community surrounding stem-cell therapy but the risks are not yet known.
"It's entirely an experimental procedure at present," he said.
The VesCell technology was developed by TheraVitae Co., which has offices in Thailand and laboratories in Israel.
Dr. Edward Shen, professor of medicine at the UH medical school, explained that stem cells are immature cells that have potential to grow into any kind of cell in the body.
Many studies are going on to harvest these young cells, which multiply and differentiate to restore cells they are with, such as heart muscle cells, Shen said.
He said "excellent centers" outside the United States, operating by themselves or in cooperation with U.S. centers, are offering such stem-cell therapy.
Time magazine featured VesCell Adult Stem Cell therapy in an article last year on TheraVitae, a U.S.- and Israeli-run company treating heart disease with stem cells from a patient's blood.
University of Pittsburgh cardiologist Amit Patel, collaborating with TheraVitae, said stem cells taken from blood appear better suited to forming heart and artery tissue and there's no risk of rejection by the immune system, according to the Time article. The treatment requires a 12-day stay and was reported to cost about $30,000, including most expenses in Bangkok.
The therapy is still experimental, however, and recommended by doctors only when conventional solutions such as angioplasty and bypass surgery have been exhausted, according to the Time article.
According to the article, a small blood sample from the patient is sent to the company's laboratory in Israel, where stem cells in the blood are isolated and multiplied using a patented process. A week later, several million stem cells are returned to Bangkok and inserted into the patient's arteries or heart.
Patel told Time that when cells are released into coronary arteries, they appear to form new vessels and improve blood flow. When injected directly into the heart with a syringe, he said, they seem to grow into new tissue and improve pumping efficiency.