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Don Lewis, MD


Don Lewis, MD 

Don grew up with four brothers in New Lexington, OH, son of a coal miner/stationary steam engineer/politician/ entrepreneur. His father was “anything he wanted to be,” even though he had dropped out of school at age 13 to support his family.

Don’s father especially wanted to make sure that his boys had the opportunity to attend college. Don’s older brother, and boyhood hero, suggested that Don study optometry. Don followed his advice. He also signed up for advanced ROTC, where he was promised an assignment as an optometry officer on active duty in the Air Force, but it was not to be. There were no openings, so instead he performed “an interesting variety” of administrative jobs.

“When I got out of the service I considered going to graduate school and Dad said, ‘If you are going to go back to college, why don’t you be a medical doctor?’ I thought, ‘That’s not a bad idea, let’s do that.’ So as an optometrist, I was never in practice. I worked for one quarter for a former classmate in Portsmouth, then went to medical school.”

Don attended OSU Medical School. Riverside Hospital had just opened and Don interned with Dr. Oscar Rosnell, MD who encouraged him to apply for a residency at the Mayo Clinic.

“When he asked me if I had applied to the Mayo Clinic, I said, ‘No, I’d never get in there.’ Dr. Rosnell persisted and ended up making me fly up to the Mayo Clinic to accompany a patient. The Chairman interviewed me and two weeks later, I had an appointment. It was just a stroke of good luck.”

At the time he finished his training, there were very few subspecialists and ocular implant lenses were in their infancy. Dr. Lewis was one of the early ones willing to adopt them. At that time, without a clear formula many ophthalmologists had to approximate the strength of lens to implant after cataract surgery.

“If someone was nearsighted that would indicate a weak lens. If they were farsighted that would indicate a stronger lens. That’s how new it was. It was mostly guesswork.”

Dr. Lewis was a regular lecturer at Grand Rounds, especially for refraction, due to his optometric background. At that time, the lecturer would bring a patient with a unique condition to Grand Rounds. Each doctor would take turns examining the patient and discuss the case together.

“Well, there was no reasonable way to bring a refraction patient in. All I could bring in were records of interesting patients. Now, the format of Grand Rounds has changed and when someone presents a case, the patient is not there. So, in a sense I was ahead of my time.”

Being trained at the Mayo Clinic, Don always felt that William Havener, MD, OSU Department of Ophthalmology Chairman at the time, afforded him a great deal of respect.

“Truth is that Bill treated me better than I deserved, maybe because I was a referring doctor. There are very few people that I have felt were a genius. Bill was a genius, in the sense that he stuck with a problem longer than anyone else. I referred all of my retinal detachments to Bill and he was clever enough not to embellish his letters. You could get a letter with three lines from Bill that said exactly what you needed. He was an excellent communicator.”

Don retired in 2010 after 44 years in ophthalmology, but still loves learning. In fact, most Thursdays, he can still be found in the front row at the Ophthalmology Grand Rounds listening to the interesting cases that the residents present.

“Currently, the residency program is appreciably better than it was when I was just getting out of medical school. They get a good variety of difficult cases. So, I think that the residents coming out now are better equipped than I was when I finished my residency.”

Further demonstrating his support for the residency program, Dr. Lewis attended this year’s golf outing, where his skillful long putt was the hit of the outing.

“It really was a good long putt. The slope was curved up and out above the hole and the ball just followed the line perfectly. It’s one of the two good putts I’ve made in my life. It was a good day. I got Archie’s signature on a football and it was really a lot more fun than I expected.”

With a history that mirrored the unusual, curved surface of a golf green, Dr. Lewis feels that his life, like his amazing long putt, followed a varied, but perfect path.

“I keep this book on my counter called “I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.” That’s truly the story of my life. I got into ophthalmology at a time when tremendous changes took place and was able to feel that I was part of some of the changes.”