By Herb Benham
I want a party like Dr Ho's. Food, wine, love, admiration and a wife who will let him lead (barely and against her better judgment) in a tango dance. This was Dr. Sze Ho's 70th birthday party at Seven Oaks on a recent Saturday.
His fan club is impressive. It goes beyond his wife, Chiuyee, his children, Caleb and Yen-Yen and their spouses, Jackie and Yucan Chiu, to nurses, colleagues, patients and friends with whom he went to elementary school in Hong Kong.
Ho was among the first -- possibly the first -- of the neonatologists in Bakersfield. His focus was newborns, especially the ill or premature.
"Before Dr. Ho arrived in Bakersfield almost 40 years ago, the survival rates for preemies at 28 weeks was less than 50 percent," said OB/GYN Kurt Finberg. "Now, it's above 95 percent."
Everybody seemed to have a story about Ho. We sat next to Jesica and Joe Hanson, who had one too.
"Dr. Ho is amazing," Jesica said. "Nicholas had collapsed lungs and was very ill at birth. Not only did he save our son's life but he prayed for him throughout his time in the NICU," she said.
"Dr. Ho has been a blessing to our family and we will be forever grateful."
The nurses said glowing things about him. Tribute followed tribute. Oscar winners have gotten fewer hugs.
"Rather than to wait for a funeral, I wanted a party so people could say nice things that he could hear," said his wife, Chiuyee.
Love and adoration is fine, but goodness, is there anything this man can't do? He can score music, as his 34-year-old daughter, Yen-Yen, rediscovered when she received a letter with the piano, violin and cello parts for "Invisible Hands," written by her father. They performed it together at his birthday party.
"Music is my first love --not my wife!," Ho joked.
Ho can play the violin, organ, accordion and piano, sings in a choir at First Presbyterian Church and speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English. (He helped start the Chinese Christian Church of Bakersfield at First Pres.)
"When we traveled on vacation visiting relatives in Canada and England and came across a piano, my dad would play," said Yen-Yen.
"Fancy hotel, airport, restaurant or department store, it didn't matter; Dad would play whatever was in his heart. However, there was always one song he played first, 'Home on the Range.' I learned later that this was the one American song they all learned in their primary school days in Hong Kong."
Friends from Sze's elementary and high school class in Hong Kong participated in the musical numbers as did his granddaughters, Enna and Ennyn, and if that weren't enough, he and his wife performed a tango dance at the end.
"Five years ago, when he had cancer, we weren't sure whether he would live and, if so, whether he would sing again," said his wife.
He did both at the party, a celebration of the power of family, friends and faith.
"I used to hit the higher notes but after my cancer treatment, I cannot do what I used to," Ho said. "That's why my wife said it was a miracle that the Lord gave me back my voice."
His life has been a blend of church, science, music, literature and a million other things that have caught his interest.
"My dad is already thinking about arranging a piece of music that has his grandgirls playing piano, my husband on violin, me on cello and him singing," his daughter said.
Sze sang "What a Wonderful World" toward the end of the party. If I hadn't known somebody else had written it, I would have guessed he had. The last verse was appropriate, given his contribution to thousands of babies in Kern County over the last 38 years.
"I hear babies cry, I watch them grow;
"They'll learn much more than I'll ever know,
"And I think to myself, 'What a wonderful world.'"
What a wonderful world and a healthier one. Around here, we can thank Dr. Ho.