For Dr. Eleazar Ley, the inspiration to become a doctor stemmed from an experience he was too young to remember.
He was born in San Luis, Sonora, a small town just on the other side of the border near Yuma. His mother is full Chinese; his dad is half Chinese, and half Mexican. Not long after his birth, Dr. Ley developed some serious medical problems. The doctors in Mexico did not know how to treat his illness, and therefore were unable to help him. “My uncle in the U.S. told my parents to take me to Yuma. But the problem was, my mother didn’t have papers,” explained Dr. Ley.
His doctor in Mexico wrote a letter, asking the border agents to please allow Dr. Ley’s mother to cross the border so that she could get him the medical treatment he so desperately needed.
“I often think about what happened, what my parents were dealing with, and the border agent who was kind enough to let my mom across. If he had turned my mom away, who knows if I would even be here,” he said. “My parents told me this story, and it really made an impression on me. Growing up in Mexico, I always thought, ‘I’m going to be a doctor. I’m going to fix people.” This became his calling.
And so, he made it happen.
Dr. Ley completed his undergraduate work in the states as a foreign student. He went back to Mexico for medical school, immigrated to the U.S., and transferred to New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY. Next stop: Tucson. “I was lucky to match into the general surgery program at the University of Arizona.” With a desire to go into plastic surgery, but no training program offered in Arizona, Dr. Ley headed to Salt Lake City, where he completed a fellowship in pediatric craniofacial plastic surgery at Primary Children’s Medical Center.
From there, he went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he received fellowship training in hand and microsurgery. “I then went back to Salt Lake City and completed a fellowship in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Utah,” he said. He accepted a job there as an academic surgeon, teaching plastic and hand surgery, and while he loved the teaching aspect of it, Utah never really felt like home. “My wife is from Tucson, and we’re fond of the Old Pueblo. We moved back to Tucson so that our girls, ages 8 and 10, can be closer to family. We’re very happy to be back.”
With 14 years of medical school, residency, and three fellowships under his belt, the 40-year-old says he feels like he’s getting his career started late, but he wouldn’t change it one bit. “I didn’t mean for it to work out this way,” he laughed, referring to having fellowships in three specialties. “Now that I’m through it, it has made me a much better surgeon.” That “immigrant drive” as he calls it, endless motivation, and years of hard work got him to where he is today.
He opened the Ley Institute of Plastic & Hand Surgery, LLC and the Arizona Craniofacial & Pediatric Plastic Surgery, located in the TMC Medical Park. While he spends most of his time there, he also works with some of the residents at the VA Hospital.
A few times a month, he heads down to Nogales and Douglas for clinics that are held there. “When I came back to Tucson, I wanted to serve the border community and bring specialized care to these patients so that they didn’t have to seek out this level of care.” Dr. Ley can speak conversational Cantonese, and is fluent in Spanish, which he says immediately puts his patients at ease. “They are always so happy that they can speak to me in Spanish. When I tell them I’m from Mexico, they are relieved that I understand their culture.”
Dr. Ley said heading to Mexico on a humanitarian medical mission is on his bucket list.
“My goal is to provide comprehensive specialty care to patients here in Southern Arizona. People often think Phoenix is a mecca, but that’s not necessarily true. Patients can get the same quality of care here in Tucson, and I am especially proud that my pediatric work allows children and their families to get the care they need locally.”
Dr. Ley was featured on KVOA News 4 Tucson about a condition called craniosynostosis.