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About Northern Minnesota Eye Care:

 
Dr's Chris McDowell and Sasha Narayan
 
Dr. Sasha Narayan and Chris McDowell established Northern Minnesota Eye Care in June 2006 in Cloquet, MN. At that time Dr. Narayan was also working in Moose Lake for Dr. Joe Jamros. In July of 2014 Dr. Narayan and Dr. McDowell bought Moose Lake Eye Care and now own three Northern Minnesota Eye Care Locations in Cloquet, Moose Lake, and Hinckley.

Dr. Narayan and Dr. McDowell practice full-scope optometry and are also infantSEE providers. They are active members of the American Optometric Association (AOA), Minnesota Optometric Association (MOA), and Cleinman Performance Partners.

Dr. Narayan and Dr. McDowell got married in July of 2006. They live in Moose Lake, MN with their two kids, Jackson and Maya.
 

 

STORY FROM PINE JOURNAL, 9/6/06

Our Neighbors... Chris McDowell and Sasha Narayan
These local optometrists discovered early on that they had an "eye" for each other:


Chris McDowell and Sasha Narayan have come home at last-to a place they've never lived before.  When the two recently took over as the new owners of Vista Eyes on Cloquet Avenue in downtown Cloquet (we well as its sister store in Virginia), they felt as though all the years of optometry school, training, and hard work had found them more than a business- it had found them a home.

"We lived in Chicago for four years," said Narayan, "and after a while, I didn't really want to live in a big city anymore."  "You see so many people in a place like that," added McDowell, "and they're all looking out for themselves.  People in Minnesota seem so much nicer.  It's that Midwest mentality, I guess. I remember coming back from Chicago for a break one time, and when people here looked at me, or waved, or people in the mall would smile at me, I'd think, "What's wrong with me? Do I have something on my face?' That's the first time it hit me that I wasn't going to live in a big city all my life."

That "Minnesota mentality" isn't entirely new to McDowell, however.  He was born and raised in Olivia, south of Willmar, where his dad is an elementary principal and his mother is a public heath nurse.  He went to St. Cloud State for his undergraduate work, getting a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical science and then went on to the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, where he earned his OD degree.

"I knew what I wanted to do ever since I was junior in high school." He related.  "My mom was a nurse and my aunts were nurses, so I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but my optometrist kind of guided me in that direction when I was still in high school.  He actually let me look into peoples eyes and showed me things related to his practice, though I didn't even know what I was looking at the time.  I had seen his practice start really small, and now he has an amazing practice in Wilmar in an $8 million dollar building.  He was the one who got me into it, and optometry is all I've wanted to do since high school."

Narayan came about practicing optometry by way of entirely different track, however.  She was born in Guyana in South America and then her family moved to St. Lucia when she was only a month old.  They later moved to Barbados, and then Caledon, Ontario, where they've lived for the past 21 years.

"My dad has been with the same company for 30 years, so every time they promoted him we moved to a different place," she explained.  Narayan attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, for her undergraduate degree without really know what she wanted to purse as a career.  Following graduation, she took a year off to decide which direction to follow.  "I knew I wanted something in the medical field," she said, "and when I started learning about optometry, it just fit so perfectly. - both in the type of work I wanted to do and also the type of lifestyle I wanted to lead."

Optometry is a medical profession that involves testing and examining the eyes and prescribing glasses or other remedies to correct vision problems.  Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, can do invasive surgery such as cataract surgery and retinal attachments, though optometrists can do everything up to that point - not only examining vision and prescribing glasses but treating and managing many types of eye diseases as well.

"Our capabilities are vast." Said Narayan.  "I don't think a lot of people realize just how much we can do.  The only thing we can't do is surgery."

The two of them met during the first year of optometry school in Chicago.  They both lived in the dormitory and ended up as part of an extended group of close friends, comprised of nine girls and five guys.  "All of us ended up clicking really well," said Narayan.  "Chris and I were friends for three years and started dating in our last year of optometry school. In the end, I was the one who confessed my love for him!" she grinned.  "It was our last day of school," she went on to relate, "and we had just finished taking our last exam. We were leaving on our externships in Florida tow or three days later. Chris and I went out, and decided I was go to do it then - or never!  I put my hand on his shoulder, turned him forward me and said "you can't talk, you can't interrupt me or I will never get through this…' Then I told him everything I felt about him.  He was smiling through the whole thing and afterward he said he been intending to tell me the exact same thing when we got to our externship in Florida!  I think right from that minute, we pretty much knew it was meant to be for us to be together.  Two days later we were such good friends. We'd know each other at our worst, during our lows and our highs, and we'd seen it through."  Since the two of them were mandated to go through a series of externships before they could begin practice, they decided to make the best of it while at the same time working on their relationship.

The went to Florida to start their externships - McDowell in Gainesville and Narayan in West Palm Beach. They saw each other every weekend for three months they were there. "It was nice," commented Narayan, "because it was kind of like we were on vacation together and had lots of time to get to know each other on a different level."

While training in Florida, Narayan was lucky enough to find an affordable, fully furnished apartment right on the beach.  McDowell, on the other hand, lived in a spartan one-bedroom apartment with no furniture.  "I rented a bed and had no other furniture except a card table, a plastic lawn chair and a folding chair," he said.  "I found a box to hold my alarm clock, but that was it!"  Needless to say, he spent more time visiting Narayan in West Palm Beach than she did coming to Gainesville.

After the three months were up, Narayan went to her second externship in Vermont and McDowell went to his in Chicago. "The hospital I worked for put me up," she explained, "so I went from living in a beach apartment to a hospital.  I slept in a hospital bed that cranked up into a sitting position, with the bars on the on the windows and the psych ward right next door!"  McDowell frequently visited Narayan in Vermont, where they took a lot of photos, since they both love photography, discovering some 20 covered bridges to photograph.  McDowell's next externship was in Alaska and Narayan went to Chicago. "I went to visit him twice in the middle of winter," said Narayan. "It was definitely cold!" she shuddered.   Then McDowell went to Connecticut, where he lived in a rented room in a private residence, with just one room, a hot plate, a board between two boxes for a countertop-and no sink.  "When I first went to visit him, I asked where he did his dishes, and he told me he did them in the bath tub!" Narayan grinned. "I figured if I showered there, I'd have to watch for carrots or peas or something!  There's no way I could have lived that way.  I think I would have washed dishes outside first, they would have done in Guyana!"

Narayan's final externship assignment was in New Orleans and she was able to enjoy Mardi Gras while there, in addition to experiencing yet another dimension to the field of optometry to which she was about to dedicate her life. 

After that period of time, the two of them graduated, and their families rented a house in Chicago and stayed all together for graduation so they got to know each other very well.  The Day after graduation, McDowell and Narayan moved to Minnesota, living with McDowell's parents for a month while they waited for their licenses and malpractice insurance to come through. 

Then they moved to Plymouth, where they both practiced optometry in a retail, corporate optometrist practice.  "At that point," said Narayan, "you don't do a lot of disease management. You just refract for glasses and contact lenses.  That was when we decided what we didn't want to do.  We chose to practice a different way and that's what we're working at now."

Right about that time, the two heard about the availability of the optometry practice at Vista Eyes in Cloquet, which is what they decided to do.   It wasn't tough decision for McDowell, who likes hunting, fishing, camping and photography, nor for Narayan, who had learned to enjoy those things as well.  They bought that practice, along with an affiliated one in Virginia.  That was when the proverbial ball really started rolling!

The two moved to Cloquet the last week of May (2006) closed on the business June 1st, went to Narayan's family home near Toronto on June 15, got married July 1st, went on the honeymoon to St. Lucia, came back to Cloquet July 12 and started working July 13th.  "Ever since then we've just been going full stream ahead with no stopping!" said McDowell.  And though both agree it's been an action-packed summer for them,, they're loving every minute of it.  "Working in the Twin Cities was different kind of stress," said Narayan.  "We weren't really happy with what we were doing, so we woke up in the morning frustrated."  "We only had five days of vacation a year, added McDowell, "and we worked every Saturday.  We saw tow patients every 15 minutes, so we'd see up to 50 patients a day."  "Here it's stressful, but it's exciting stress," said Narayan.  "Here we are more involved in patient care, whereas at the place we worked before, it was just a revolving door" said McDowell. "We've both seen so many amazing things already, though we've only been here for a month."

 

McDowell works in the Cloquet and Virginia Vista Eyes stores five to six days a week, and Narayan works with Dr. Joe Jamros two days a week in Moose Lake and handles the business operations of their Northern Minnesota Eye Care practice the rest of the week.

They practice full-scope optometry, prescribing glasses and contact lenses, monitoring and treating glaucoma, eye diseases and eye infections, doing foreign body removals and diabetic eye exams, and dealing with macular degeneration, pre- and post-op cataract care and treatment for dry eye.

And though their time here has been brief so far, they already have a sense of how special this community has become to them. "We keep seeing the same people out in the community," said Narayan.  "In Moose Lake, I went to the coffee shop next door, and the next time I went, the woman said, "I haven't seen you in a while!" I was so surprised she recognized me so soon."  "I went to the grocery store one day," added McDowell, "and one of my patients recognized me - even with my hat on- and stopped to talk with me." 

When the two first came to Cloquet to scope out the business and find a place to live, they were welcomed and befriended by landlords Mike and Jodi Randall and Joe and Suzette Randall, and they were welcomed in equally as friendly as a fashion when they rented a apartment from John and Diane Gust.  "It was nice coming into a community knowing a few people already," said Narayan.  "Since then, we haven't met a single person here who hasn't made a great impression on us, and everyone is just so willing to help. Any time we have a computer problem, Joe Randall-even thou he's in air conditioning and not computer work- is right there for us.  They're right there anytime we them, it's amazing."


McDowell and Narayan have a staff of three employees in Cloquet and three in Virginia.
"We have great staff," said Narayan. "Usually, change is hard for people and we knew that could be a problem, but we just meshed right in with the staff form the start.  They're so great to work with, and a lot of fun, too.  It's great, because in school we learned how to be doctors, but we didn't learn how to be business people.  That's the part of it that we're learning now, and it's exciting."  "We've learned a lot in the past six months," McDowell added, "including dealing with people and caring for people." "There's so many health care providers out there who are great doctors but who just don't' have that personal flair," pointed out Narayan. "It's amazing how receptive people can be if you have it."

One of the commitments the tow made to each other when they moved to Cloquet was they wanted to be part of the community.  McDowell, for example, loves sports, and he's hope he can help referee some youth football games along the way, and Narayan is already interested in the R.E.A.C.H program because she worked in the Random Entry Program in Chicago for underprivileged kids in the area.

They've made a big-time commitment to make this their home and raise a family here, and the possibilities, as they seem them, are endless.  "This is where we're going to be from here on out," said McDowell.  "We're not going anywhere, and we're excited to be here." 

-Pine Journal Reporter, Wendy Johnson.

 

Northern Minnesota Eye Care - Cloquet 1001 Cloquet Ave. Cloquet, MN 55720 Phone: (218) 879-1558 Fax: (218) 878-1907
Northern Minnesota Eye Care - Hinckley 45 Lady Luck Dr. Hinckley, MN 55037 Phone: (320) 384-6361 Fax: (320) 384-6361
Northern Minnesota Eye Care - Moose Lake 312 Elm Ave. Moose Lake, MN 55767 Phone: (218) 485-8495 Fax: (218) 485-8498

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