By Genevieve Fultz
COKATO, MN The Cokato Eye Center and residents of Cokato bid a fond farewell to Dr. Paul Eklof O.D. upon his retirement Dec. 28 after 43 years of service to the community.
Eklof has been a resident of the Cokato area during his entire career, and plans to stay in the town he made his home.
His childhood hometown of Slayton in the southwestern part of the state is similar in many ways to Cokato.
As a child, Eklof seemed to know exactly what he wanted to be, and even remembers writing a paper in middle school about becoming an optometrist. “It’s unusual, but I had it in mind apparently for quite a while,” He said. “I think I was lucky to always know.”
He attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD for two years before moving to the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, IL, where he graduated June 3, 1973.
The newly accredited optometrist returned to Minnesota to start his practice and opened his first office Oct. 1, 1973 at 370 South Broadway in Cokato.
Eklof transferred his practice to the Cokato Eye Center in summer 1997. He has been the primary optometrist at that location until recently when Dr. Katie Tanacbel and other staff have come on in preparation for his retirement.
When looking back on his career in Cokato, Eklof spoke of the community and the pleasure of working and living close to his patients in a small town. “It’s enjoyable ... to see generational changes. To see a patient, and know their parents and grandparents.”
When describing the most rewarding aspects of his profession, Eklof relayed the feelings of satisfaction in helping patients who benefit almost immediately from his analysis.
That would certainly include those who see him on an emergency basis for removal of debris where, Eklof jokes, he gets “the best handshakes” from relieved patients. He also mentions instances of helping children see the writing board in class, where he stated that “the gradual degradation of sight might not even be noticed until it’s been addressed and once corrected, can have an incredible effect on the child.” He has also enjoyed helping the elderly citizens of Cokato maintain their independence by finding corrective measures so they can see well enough to keep drivers’ licenses.
During the course of his long career, Eklof has seen many changes in the science and method of practicing optometry. Among the most notable technological changes, he mentioned the increased sensitivity of diagnostic equipment and the benefits to patient care. He clarified that “this is primarily for eye health issues, finding swelling on the optic nerve relating to brain tumors, and other melanoma of the eye,” and not for an examination testing for visual acuity, a test which hasn’t changed much over the years.
This diagnostic equipment can catch significant and possibly life-threatening problems early on and provide time to assess and find options.
As changes to technology in all scientific fields continue to move quickly, one of the biggest challenges Eklof has noticed is the difficulty in simply keeping up with new equipment and procedures.
Another major shift in the field of optometry is the ability to prescribe medications directly to patients.
“Optometry has probably changed more than any [medical] profession,” Eklof stated. “In 1973, optometry was not licensed to use any diagnostic or therapeutic medication ... everything had to be referred to an ophthalmologist. It was a struggle to get that legislative change.”
This meant optometrists could not use diagnostic drugs for dilating or numbing the eye during an examination. They also could not prescribe therapeutic medications for treating eye conditions of bacterial infection or glaucoma.
Minnesota passed its therapeutic pharmaceutical agent (TPA) legislation in May 1993. Now, optometrists have more power to help their patients directly and immediately without the need to refer them to another doctor for relief.
When discussing what words of wisdom he would like to pass on to the next generation of optometrists, Eklof said the best advice he can give is to listen. “You can start to pick up things, and even make a diagnosis from the details of what they say,” he explained.
So what is next for the doctor? He laughs at this. “I haven’t played golf in 20 years ... I’m thinking I might try it again,” he said. Most importantly, he looks forward to spending more quality time with his wife, Belinda, and two daughters, Erin, 29, and Leah, 26, who both live in the Minneapolis area.
Eklof said he is thankful for the staff of Cokato Eye Center and to the people of the community for the last 43 years. He said he appreciates everyone who “has allowed me to participate in the care of their eyes or the preservation and enhancement of their vision over the years.”