Beloved Fresno dentist Wayne Kodama dies of flu complications

The Fresno BeeJanuary 30, 2014 

Dr. Wayne Kodama

PHOTO PROVIDED BY KODAMA FAMILY

Wayne Kodama, a beloved longtime Fresno dentist and founder of Healthy Smiles Mobile Dental Foundation, died last week from flu complications. He was 52.

Dr. Kodama didn't get a flu shot, said his wife, Susan Kodama, who is now urging everyone to get one -- even those who consider themselves healthy, like her husband did.

"He never had a cold, he never had a flu, he was never sick," Susan said. "He never missed a day of work, never."

Dr. Kodama had the flu for about three days before it turned into a bad cough, Susan said. He got treatment about a week later and was hospitalized for two weeks before he died Jan. 24. Doctors suspect his death was related to H3N5, a relatively new flu strain, Susan said.

Dr. Kodama, named after John Wayne, was also a grape farmer who once dreamed of making his living as a writer.

But his calling would shift while attending college in Southern California. After earning his dental surgery degree, Dr. Kodama came home to the Fresno area and worked as a dentist for 24 years. He started Healthy Smiles in 1994, but the inspiration for it started in college when he worked for a mobile dental unit in Southern California with his friend Michael Alijani.

Last year, the foundation provided dental care for 5,000 underserved Central Valley children from the Healthy Smiles RV, Susan said.

Alijani, now a dentist in Southern California, is planning to move to Fresno soon to continue Kodama's private practice. Alijani, a board member for Healthy Smiles, also plans to take over as the foundation's dental director, Susan said.

Alijani fondly recalled his friend's cheerful personality and warmth: "When you see his smile, you would just feel the effect."

Susan said a patient once told her husband in Spanish that he had the "hand of God."

"He's very gentle and kids see his gentleness," Susan said. "That's why they are willing to sit there for him."

While Dr. Kodama was a devoted dentist, his real passion was farming, Susan said. After college, he returned home to the family farm near Biola and built a house next to his parents' and farmed grapes and raisins. He raised his family there.

"He's a very very patient, loving man," Susan said tearfully. "We have four kids ... He doesn't golf, he doesn't do anything. All he does is just spend time with us. Every weekend we do something together ... He's my best friend."

He was teaching his youngest, 10-year-old Spencer, how to play baseball and wanted to be his Little League coach, she added.

Longtime friend Dave Rose met Dr. Kodama while selling dental supplies but came to appreciate how he loved riding his tractor, tilling soil and enjoying the solitude.

"The first time you see it, it's sort of out of place," Rose said of the dentist turned farmer. "But knowing Wayne, he made it all look natural."

And Dr. Kodama was an avid reader who enjoyed writing short stories, Susan said.

"Wayne is the type of guy when you meet him, he's just like your best friend," Rose said. "You saw what a good person, and what an honest person he was."

Dr. Wayne Iwao Kodama

Age:

52

Occupation: Dentist and farmer

Date of birth: Sept. 12, 1961

Date of death: Jan. 24, 2014

Survivors: Wife Susan Kodama; children Miya, Aimi, Kimiko and Spencer Kodama; mother Itoko Kodama; uncle Sam Kodama; and cousins Kevin, Clayton and Stacy Kodama, all of Fresno; and sister Shirley Yamazaki of Southern California

Funeral service: 11 a.m. Saturday at Lisle Funeral Home, 1605 L St., Fresno

Remembrances: Donations may be made to the Healthy Smiles Mobile Dental Foundation, 1275 W. Shaw Ave., #101, Fresno CA 93711

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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