Loma Linda University Medical Center kidney transplant patient remembers 1969 experience
Larry Coats, PharmD, owner of two pharmacies in the Temecula area, was the third person to ever receive a kidney transplant at Loma Linda University Medical Center in 1969.
Larry Coats, PharmD, had just finished high school when he got his first taste of the medical world that would define his life, both personally and professionally. In 1969, at age 19, Dr. Coats was diagnosed with good pasture syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that affects the lungs and kidneys. The only treatment available then was removal of the kidneys and lungs. The Riverside resident was still living with his parents, who took him to Loma Linda University Medical Center to have his kidneys removed.
“It was ugly,” says Dr. Coats. “I had blood coming out of my nose and I was coughing blood up before my kidneys were removed.” Thankfully, his symptoms cleared up within a week of the procedure and he was put on dialysis for four months.
“I was the only one on dialysis I knew of,” recalls Dr. Coats.
Louis Smith, MD, a general surgeon at LLUMC, had recently performed the first kidney transplant at the Medical Center. Dr. Smith told the Coats family of this new treatment option.
“At the time I was a minor and I didn’t want to do it,” remembers Dr. Coats. “All the conditions they said were a real bummer. I wouldn’t be able to have kids, I couldn’t go to the mall because of risk of infections, I couldn’t go to the snow. But they finally talked me into it.”
“Dr. Smith would come to my room and draw on my stomach where he was going to do the surgery. And he had his entire surgical team pray with me right before surgery. It was really neat.”
Both of his parents were a match for kidneys. His mother was chosen as the donor.
“I’d never been sick before this,” says Dr. Coats. “It was really scary.”
Dr. Smith performed the kidney transplant on November 6, 1969. Larry Coats was the third patient at Loma Linda University Medical Center to have a kidney transplant.
From the time his kidneys were removed as initial treatment for the Good Pasture Syndrome, Dr. Coats made many trips to LLUMC and was in and out of the hospital for a year. His experience in the hospital shaped his future.
“Before the transplant I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college,” says Dr. Coats. “But while I was in the hospital I was surrounded by medicine. I was probably taking 20 to 30 pills a day then. And that shaped in my mind what I wanted to do.”
In 1971, Dr. Coats began attending classes at Riverside Community College and transferred to the University of the Pacific where he completed his bachelor of science in pharmacology and earned his doctorate in pharmacology in 1975. He also married his wife of 32 years, Robin, a nurse, the same year.
Dr. Coats began his career as a pharmacist at the Riverside Medical Clinic. Two years later he took over his first pharmacy in Wildomar with the help of a friend. Through the ensuing years, Dr. Coats would buy and sell 10 pharmacies along the way. He currently owns two pharmacies in the Temecula area. He would also spend three years working for Payless Pharmacy, buying 40 pharmacies for them during his time with the company.
But Dr. Coats will be the first to point out his real full-time job.
“When you have a transplant, you’re a patient for life,” says Dr. Coats. “So I’m good at pharmacy. But I’m great at being a patient.”
In 2004, Dr. Coats would need another kidney transplant after his mother’s kidney finally failed after 35 years. This time a friend would be the donor, and Okechukwu Ojogho, MD, current head of the Loma Linda University Medical Center Transplant Institute, would be his surgeon. The biggest difference he noticed the second time around was the benefit his donor received from laproscopic surgery to remove his kidney.
“When you have renal failure, you’re so sick that when you get a transplant you feel better right away,” explains Dr. Coats. “When my mom donated her kidney, her incision was almost half way around her whole body. I was up and walking around the next day where she was bedridden. Not like now. My friend and I went home on the same day in 2004.”
Besides being a transplant patient, receiving all of his follow-up care at LLUMC, Dr. Coats has had multiple head and neck surgeries for cancer treatments at the Medical Center as well.
“Across the board, this is a top-notch facility,” notes Dr. Coats. “I know—I’ve had 20 surgeries here.”
Looking back on all of the medications and the initial transplant surgery, Dr. Coats would still do it again.
“I’m glad my family made me do it,” he says. “It shaped my future and has allowed me to give back and help a lot of people.”
By Preston Clarke Smith