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Indian origin doc works wonders

Crooner Don Ho was suffering from an unusual heart ailment. But now, he's feeling much better after having an innovative surgery by Dr Amit Patel.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 12, 2005 13:18 IST

Legendary Hawaiian crooner Don Ho says he's feeling much better after undergoing an experimental heart surgery that involves injecting stem cells taken from the patient's blood and injecting them into the heart.

Known for his signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," Ho remained at a hospital in Thailand on Thursday, recovering from the procedure.

Dr Amit Patel, a heart surgeon from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre who oversaw the procedure in Bangkok, said that Ho underwent a new treatment on 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.

The experimental procedure was developed by TheraVitae, 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.

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 therapy.

The singer had "an extremely weak" heart that was pumping far less blood than a healthy organ before the surgery, his doctor said.

Dr Ralph Shohet, Director of Cardiovascular Research at the John H Burns School of Medicine said that he has been studying the human heart for 20 years and is familiar with the procedure.

"In a handful of those studies, it's been shown that it probably is a safe technique," Shohet said. "The big step is to show that it's an effective technique."

Shohet said more research needs to be done and if there is any improvement, it won't be seen for months. Still, there are signs the treatment might yield a miracle. "There are a tiny number of studies that suggest that, but I would say that the jury is still out on whether it's going to be useful or not," Shohet said.

"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 going home."

A Thursday photo released by his Honolulu publicist Donna Jung shows a shirtless, baseball cap-wearing Ho smiling and waving a Hawaiian "shaka" hangloose sign from his hospital bed in Bangkok. "Tell my fans to stay healthy," he said. "I'm ready to go another 50 years."

First Published: Dec 12, 2005 11:49 IST