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Centenarian optometrist still accepting patients

Daniel Nast Jr. began working as an optometrist in 1942.

With a stoop and a slight totter, Daniel Nast Jr. headed down the hallway toward the doctor’s office.

His skin is papery thin and he has a hearing aid in each ear. A woman about half his age accompanied him.

“And who are you?” Nast said to the woman, someone he knows well.

It’s a joke. It’s the sort of comment he knows people expect of someone his age. Nast is 100 years old. He’s the doctor; she’s the patient.

Nast is an optometrist. Of the approximately 47,000 licensed and practicing doctors of optometry in the nation, he is the oldest, according to the American Optometric Association. Nast has been seeing patients since before the end of World War II and continues to see them three days a week in his Northbrook office.

“I tell everyone, ‘Stay working as long as you can, keep busy,” Nast said in a husky voice that occasionally trails off. “That’s the secret of it.”

Nast works with equipment that’s both high-tech — various computer programs — and something that looks like a forerunner to the View-Master, a device that might have been plucked from an antiques store.

“They still make this,” Nast said.

His patient on this day is Pam Lefkowitz. She has, in layman’s terms, crossed eyes. She’s here for eye therapy. This is her sixth session.

Lefkowitz said she only recently learned Nast’s age, when another optometrist in the office mentioned it.

“I said, ‘Wait, wait. What did you say – 100?’” Lefkowitz recalled. “I’m still stunned by it.”

Lefkowitz had assumed Nast was in his 80s, her mother’s age.

“They talk about the same things,” Lefkowitz said.

Lefkowitz keeps coming back because what Nast is doing is working, she said.

“I don’t think there is anyone else who does what he does,” she said.

And Nast has the backing of his boss, optometrist Deborah Zelinsky. She has no reservations about having a centenarian seeing patients.

“His brain works,” Zelinsky said. “We don’t ask him to carry anything heavy all over the place. We don’t ask him to work nonstop with no lunch breaks. ... He brings three quarters of a century of experience to our practice.”

To be sure, Nast needs some help from time to time. He no longer drives — not because he thinks he can’t but because he had back surgery a few years ago that, he said, affected his “coordination.”

His 91-year-old wife had been driving him to the office, but she’s recovering from a broken hip. From time to time, she checks in on him, calling Nast’s scuffed Samsung flip phone.

Until now, Nast has had no email account, but he’s giving it serious thought.

“In order to get an Uber, I have to have email,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, he’s plenty used to answering questions about his age. The secret to a long, healthy life?

“Don’t get sick.”

Sometimes, he knows the answer before the question is asked. When a visitor, with a hem and a haw, tries to ask if people ever wonder if he’s, well, a bit senile, he interrupts: “No, I haven’t run into it.”

But having practiced for 77 years, isn’t he ready to retire and enjoy his dwindling years? Maybe travel a bit?

“I’ve seen most of the world that I want to see,” he said. “You name it, I’ve been there. Walked the Great Wall of China, went a thousand miles up the Amazon [River]. Australia, New Zealand.”

Nast is of German stock, his ancestors settling in upstate New York.

“Those old Germans, they just withered away,” he said.

Nast doesn’t plan to do so.

“I’m willing to go on little bit longer. So we’ll see what happens,” he said. “When you think of the alternative, it’s not bad.”

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, he is accepting new patients.