Los Lunas — A Los Lunas optometrist will be bidding farewell after a career of transforming the vision and lives of multiple generations in Valencia County.

With nearly five decades devoted to optometry, Dr. Donald Leach, the owner of Los Lunas Family Eye Care, is set to retire on Dec. 20. His lifetime of commitment and service to the community leaves behind a lasting legacy.

“After 47 years of being in practice, I tell my patients I’m seeing a lot more sand on the bottom of the hourglass than I see on the top,” says Leach, “So I thought we should try and do something else. Have a little fun.”

Jesse Jones | News-Bulletin photo
Dr. Donald Leach, O.D., owner of Los Lunas Family Eye Care since 1976, prepares to retire on Dec. 20. Seen here in one of his exam rooms, Leach reflects on nearly five decades of dedicated service to the community.

Originally, Leach wanted to become a musician until he decided he was not very good at it. His father suggested he become an optometrist and that made sense to Leach because he struggled with vision problems as a child and disliked doctor visits.

“They (medical doctors) always gave me a shot or something that hurts and when I went to the eye doctor, they didn’t hurt me,” Leach said.

Upon graduating from Valley High School in Albuquerque, he pursued his interest in optometry by enrolling in the pre-optometry curriculum at the University of New Mexico for his undergraduate degree. He completed his Doctor of Optometry in 1976 from the Ohio State University College of Optometry.

After returning home from Ohio in 1977, he began looking for a place to start his practice with the help of his doctor. They checked out Los Lunas and were shocked to find no eye or medical doctors in the valley.

He found that the Albuquerque Family Health Center was opening where the Los Lunas library is now. There was an extra suite available, so he opened his practice there.

Leach has been heavily involved in the community and has been a member of several local organizations. He was a founding member and past president of the Los Lunas Chamber of Commerce, which he says was originally called the Greater Los Lunas Business Association. He currently is the president and is a charter member of the Los Lunas Rotary Club.

Professionally, he held pivotal roles on various boards and civic bodies. He not only served as the president of the New Mexico Optometric Association, where he earned the title of Optometrist of the Year but also chaired the New Mexico State Board of Optometric Examiners.

He took the helm as president of New Mexico Vision Services, receiving the People First award from Vision Service Plan for the Mountain States Region.

Leach’s career has been full of many accomplishments and accolades that he is extremely proud of. However, he says helping people, getting the right diagnosis and saving their eyesight is the most rewarding part of his job.

“I always wanted to be somebody’s eye doctor,” said Leach. “You’re there for them when they’re in trouble or help them if they need help.”

Los Lunas Family Eye Care has been providing around-the-clock emergency care to save patients from shelling out thousands of dollars at the emergency room for eye issues.

Leach mentioned how much optometry has transformed since he began practicing back in the 1970s. When he started, optometrists were only trained to recognize eye diseases but were not allowed to treat patients or even to use numbing eye drops.

“We’re held to the standard of finding the eye disease,” said Leach “You can get sued for malpractice for not seeing something inside of their eye but we weren’t allowed to dilate the pupil so we could see.”

That all changed with the help of former Sen. Michael Sanchez, who served as the New Mexico Senate’s majority leader. He sponsored several bills that helped to change state laws allowing optometrists to treat patients more thoroughly.

Leach says optometrists can handle almost anything eye-related, except for invasive surgery. If people need cataract surgery, help with retinal detachment or something serious, they will send patients to an ophthalmologist.

One of the most significant technological innovations that revolutionized optometry in the last few decades, according to Leach, is optical coherence tomography.

OCT is a non-invasive imaging technique optometrists use to scan the retina to see a cross-section of the retina. They can diagnose and manage diseases such as glaucoma without cutting anything.

“I don’t know how you could practice (optometry) without it and get things right,” said Leach.

After 47 years in optometry, Leach has plenty of wisdom to pass on to new doctors or people thinking about going into the profession.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” says Leach.

He says sometimes patients will go in wanting a tiny tweak but truth be told, leaving things as they are might be better. Sometimes adjusting things can throw them off and make it harder for the patient to adjust.

Leach wants young optometrists to dive into the field, especially getting involved with groups such as the New Mexico Optometric Association, to be part of the change happening in the profession and lend a hand to support and steer where things are headed.

“I’ve really loved this profession. I can’t think of a day that I just didn’t want to go to work, and I enjoy the relationships,” says Leach. “There are some amazing people in this little valley and we’ve been blessed to have an opportunity to be involved with their health care.”

He said it’s like a family reunion every day. He has been seeing many patients for almost 50 years.

Leach loves relationships and sees himself as a people person, which is probably why he’s so passionate about being a doctor. However, he admits the toughest part of running a private practice is dealing with the business side of things, which is why he says he is blessed to have such an amazing staff at Los Lunas Family Eye Care.

Leach’s first secretary, Flora Artiaga, worked with him for 12 years. When they first opened the practice, Artiaga played a crucial role in promoting the business through word of mouth. She told all of her friends in the valley about the new eye doctor in town, which helped the practice grow.

Pauline Anaya took over as the office manager after Artiaga left. She served for 20 years before her daughter, Louise Aragon, took over. Aragon’s daughter, Julianna Gabaldon, also works at the practice. Three generations of one family have helped Leach’s business flourish.

After his retirement, Leach hopes to do a lot of traveling and maybe find a new hobby.

While Leach’s last day will be Wednesday, Dec. 20, Los Lunas Family Eye Care will be having an open house from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, to thank their patients for all the support.

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Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.