Lifesaving surgery gives laid-back Ho new resolve
The singer’s manager says he plans an album as well as TV interviews touting stem cell therapy
Nudging death's door has given Don Ho a fresh perspective on what has become a second chance in life, but he's keeping his feelings to himself for now.
"He has a lot to say and wants to get his thoughts together first," said Ed Brown, Ho's manager of nearly 40 years. "Don is still recuperating."
Ho remains in a Thai hospital where he underwent a heart procedure last week not yet approved in the United States. Brown said Ho could return to Hawaii as early as this week and might even be available for a news conference.
In the meantime, Brown has been contacting the likes of "60 Minutes," "48 Hours," "Dateline" and talk show host Larry King for a possible first-person description of the heart procedure. People magazine is also pursuing an interview and is "in negotiations" with Ho's staff.
The treatment involved multiplying stem cells taken from his blood and injecting them into his heart in hopes of strengthening the organ.
"Don had no other option but to go to Thailand for the treatment, or he would eventually die," Brown said. "He had no other option; he was at death's door."
Ho has suffered from heart problems for about a year and was implanted with a pacemaker, which he will continue to wear, Brown said.
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. Ho lost about 15 pounds in preparing to undergo the treatment.
"Don is a pioneer, not a guinea pig," Brown said. "This procedure can save millions of lives."
He said Ho promises to pursue his love of performing as vigorously as ever.
"Don told me what he wants for Christmas," Brown said, "and it's very simple: prayers."
Ho, 75, feels so much better that the entertainer known largely for his casual, laid-back style has big career plans "for the rest of his life, starting now," Brown said.
"Let's just say Don is reinvigorated and has a new outlook on everything."
Brown and Donna Jung, Ho's publicist, do not know when Ho will be able to perform again. Brown confirmed that Ho's heart was functioning at only about 30 percent of its normal capacity before the stem cell treatment.
Physicians have estimated that Ho's heart could be back to 80 percent of its original size within 30 days. Brown laughs when discussing Ho's attitude about his dire heart condition.
"He told me, 'You're born nothing, you die nothing, so everything in between also is nothing. Ain't no big thing,'" Brown said. "Don has the courage of a lion."
Ho also has told Brown he wants to record a new album, which Brown hopes will include Kui Lee's "If I Had to Do It All Over Again." The album could include duets with other entertainers, "Sinatra style," Brown said.
"He wants to do what he loves and does best, which is entertain, and he wants to do it everywhere in the world," he said.
"Not being on stage would kill Don faster than any heart problem."
Ho also plans to create a foundation to raise funds for people needing the stem cell procedure, and will seek the support of the insurance industry and heart association.
"He wants everyone in the world who needs it to be able to avail themselves of this procedure," Brown said.
Ho's stay in a Thai hospital and the actual procedure were documented by Hawaii videographer Sherry White, Brown said. "He doesn't know what he will do with the video, but he wanted to seize these moments."