Local optometrist receives prestigious award
‘To me, if someone lives 38 years of their life without being able to distinguish the individual blades of grass or the leaves on the trees, it is quite upsetting.’
For 38 years, Dr. Max Downey has helped the people of south central Kentucky see the world with a clear view.
“I received my first pair of glasses when I was 4 years old from Dr. Damon Allen that was practicing in Columbia,” Downey recalls. “He ended up becoming one of my life long friends, so I would say the reason I became an optometrist is because I wanted to give people the opportunity to see, just like he gave me the opportunity to see.”
Downey, a Columbia native, decided in the beginning that he wanted to practice close to home. “Being in a rural area really lets you connect with the community,” he said. “It lets me build relationships with the people I’m helping every day. It makes everything more meaningful,” Downey said.
Downey has established a reputation of being there for his clients for everything from routine eye care through serious eye injuries. He emotionally recalls a woman who had serous challenges but had never had eye care when she came to see him at the age of 38.
“To me, if someone lives 38 years of their life without being able to distinguish the individual blades of grass or the leaves on the trees, it is quite upsetting,” Downey said. “If I help that individual to be able to see the world clearly for the first time ever and it brings tears to their eyes, I can’t help but get emotional because I’m so very passionate about my work. It really makes doing what I do worth it.”
Downey helped the patient get assistance through the Kentucky Vision Program, which was started by the Kentucky Optometrist Association and has provided $20 million in free vision care to 50,000 low-income Kentuckians since it was established in 1985.
Downey has had his share of unusual cases, but one that stands out came when a woman who used a wheelchair called him with an emergency during the weekend.
“I bring her into my office to find that her cornea is perforated due to an ulcer. Her entire iris was hanging out,” he said. He took her to a fellow optometrist’s office and the two of them lifted her into the exam chair. They gently nudged her iris back into the interior chamber.
“We used a soft contact lens to act as a dam in the interior chamber. This would hold her over until the following Monday when she could get the necessary surgery to correct the issue,” he said.
While Downey can’t imagine not being an optometrist now, he once considered a career as an architect.
“If you think about it, I kind of am an architect, but instead of building structures, I’m building glasses that are unique to each person.”
Downey recalls once being told to, “Bloom where you’re planted.”
“I was planted in Adair County so I did what I could to bloom in Adair County,” he said.
Downey has long embraced improvements in eye care, including the development of technology and medicine.
“No two consecutive years have been the same. Progression is always happening. When I first began practicing, we weren’t allowed to even put a drop in someone’s eye. I helped fight to get the laws changed so optometrists could provide quality care as technology continued to develop. Tip of the hat to Kentucky’s legislature for having the confidence to provide laws necessary to provide the quality care we want to give to our patients,” Downey said.
In the late 1980s Downey had a patent for technology to measure the corneal curvature, which was ultimately used to fit contact lenses. His innovation paralleled new options in the digital age, however, and the invention was, “born at the wrong time,” Downey said.
Downey says he will retire in early 2020 but has no intentions of leaving the business completely. “I love my job so much. They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life and I’m a firm believer of that. In retirement I plan to still practice in my free time and fill in for other optometrists if I’m called to do so,” Downey said.
Downey would recommend optometry as a career and says it allows for a fulfilling career and time with family. “It’s very gratifying to you as an individual to see results and to see people happy when they see clearly for the first time. Finally, if you want a long career and want to make a comfortable living, optometry allows you to practice for as long as you want. You can work till the day you die if you wish. Dr. Damon Allen worked very successfully up until the age of 85.”
Downey wanted to thank his family for the sacrifices they’ve made over the years and his wife for being the best wife he could ask for. Downey Eye Clinic is located at 301 Burkesville St.
By Brady Spires
Clifford Leadingham Award
Dr. Max Downey has been presented the 2019 Clifford Leadingham Award by the Kentucky Optometric Association.
The award is given annually to a doctor who has displayed outstanding and consistent service in the optometric profession for more than 25 years.
He received the recognition in April during the association’s 117th annual spring congress held in Lexington.
“To receive this award has been very humbling to me. There are so many hard working people in the organization and to be singled out is very gratifying. It’s really like a life time achievement award, a nice piece to the puzzle you hope to obtain after a long career,” Downey said.