Local physician gets life-saving transplant

Dr. Larry Yokoyama will be in this year's Rose Parade in Pasadena carrying a florograph of his donor, Tammy.
Dr. Larry Yokoyama
Posted at 1:50 PM, Nov 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-24 17:59:46-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Dr. Larry Yokoyama isn't shy about telling anyone how he feels. In the exam rooms and on local sidelines, the beloved local physician was highly visible, caring for his patients until he was diagnosed with kidney stones in 2000.

According to Yokoyama, the laser treatments meant to disintegrate the stones ended up destroying his left kidney. Not long after that, his right kidney began developing uric acid stones. Soon, the doctor went into renal failure and required dialysis three times a week.

With both kidneys getting worse, Yokoyama was placed on the kidney transplant list.

That was about seven years ago. As Yokoyama waited for a match, he suffered another medical issue that led to a colonoscopy, which revealed yet another problem. Dr. Yokoyama had developed colon cancer.

As a result of the cancer diagnosis, the kidney transplant was put on hold. Yokoyama says surgeons at Cedars Sinai ultimately decided to "carve out" the cancer. They would remove a large portion of colon through a ten inch incision in his belly.

Setbacks were still not done with Dr. Yokoyama. His bowel had been so damaged by the kidney surgery years prior that he ended up back in the operating room. He recalls that the doctors were calling other doctors in to look at just how bad it was.

While all this is going on, word got out about Dr. Yokoyama's search for a kidney. In fact, officials in the transplant center told Yokoyama to please ask local residents to stop calling. According to staff, 2,400 people asked to be screened to see if they could donate a kidney, a few even demanding their kidneys be given to the doctor.

By 2019, Dr. Yokoyama was back on the transplant list, but due to his blood type, finding a match was still proving difficult. His wife Kim wanted to give him one of hers right before Christmas of 2020, but Yokoyama resisted based on his understanding that the surgery can be harder on the donor than the recipient, and he didn't want his wife to come to harm.

Finally, on the night before Christmas of 2020, came the greatest gift of all. The family of a local organ donor by the name of Tammy had contacted the transplant center, and her kidney was a match for Yokoyama.

The surgery took place during covid restrictions at 2:00 in the morning on Christmas Day, 2020, and Yokoyama finally started to recover.

The Yokoyamas asked to meet the donor family, and they have since become friends, with a piece of their loved one still alive in the doctor.

It will be two years this Christmas since Dr. Yokoyama received his new kidney, and this year he has been invited to ride on the One Legacy float in the Pasadena Rose Parade, where he'll be holding a floragraph of Tammy.

23ABC will be sharing updates to this story as we get closer to the new year.