WHEN CHRISTIAN KONTAXIS thinks of the COVID-19 pandemic, his thoughts often lead toward some of the people closest to him – particularly his grandmother, "YiaYia" to his Greek family, and younger brother, Nicholas.
In the months after the national shutdown, Christian couldn't help but keep them in mind as he conducted research for Dr. Patricia Cummings, an epidemiologist for the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
A Stanford senior tennis player majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, Kontaxis helped create a model that predicted the spread of COVID-19 in his native Coachella Valley. The data helped medical facilities plan for the influx of patients and helped prepare first responders in the city and county on what to expect as the pandemic worsened.
"Our research had a lot of impact on the way hospitals made decisions, especially at Eisenhower," Kontaxis said. "What we did definitely had an impact. We allowed the hospitals to have enough time to really prepare for the wave of coronavirus that was certain to come."
The research gained the support of U.S. congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, a former emergency room physician who represents the Coachella Valley, which reinforced the message of taking adequate precautions.
"We were advocating the need to close quick and enforce a quarantine to really lower our numbers," Kontaxis said. "I feel we were pretty successful at this. The coronavirus flattened off pretty well."
Not far from his thoughts were his family. Christian grew up in Palm Springs as the youngest of three brothers, whose father, Dr. Euthym Kontaxis, is a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Eisenhower. Christian held a special concern for his grandmother and brother, both high risk for COVID-19 – YiaYia because of her age and Nicholas because of his epilepsy and autism.
"I think about them all the time with coronavirus," Christian said. "More than 200,000 people have died in the U.S. That's just a number, and a lot of people think about that and go on with their day. But what happens when that 200,000 starts affecting your personal life.
"I want to be a person that is aware of that before the fact rather than after, and approach the pandemic as though it could and may affect my personal life – my grandmother, my brother. I want to contribute as much as I can to stopping the spread in whatever way that is."
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WHEN CHRISTIAN WAS accepted to Stanford, perhaps the proudest member of the family was YiaYia.
"We're just best buddies," Christian said. "We'll cook a lot, watch movies together, or just sit by the pool and talk. She's the biggest Stanford fan I've ever met. She talks about it every day, like, 'I can't believe my grandson went to Stanford!'"
Paul Goldstein, the Taube Family Director of Men's Tennis, values not only Christian's tennis, but his quality of character and the contribution he makes to the team culture.
"We're really intentional about the kind of culture that we want to have on this team," Goldstein said. "There's a lot of emphasis on work ethic, integrity, and being a selfless teammate. Christian really embodies those values."
Kontaxis now is working for Dr. Eric Leroux, an Eisenhower emergency physician and alum of both the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford School of Medicine. His research compares the amount of people seeking emergency care pre-COVID to those during the COVID era. They eventually will publish their findings.
Kontaxis is living with two teammates – Kento Perera and Dean Stratakos -- in Newport Beach while taking classes remotely and awaiting the opportunity to report to campus for the 2021 season.
Performance coach John Snyder provides them with lifting and fitness routines. Kontaxis also is taking a demanding course load, including an especially tough stem cell biology class that covers a lot of unfamiliar material.
From a tennis standpoint, "it was tough timing to be dealt COVID," he said. "But at the same time, everyone was dealt the same hand. You've just got to make the best of it and not really make any excuses."
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GOLDSTEIN IS ANTICIPATING that practice will resume around the beginning of January and competition will begin near the end of the month. Kontaxis is eager to feel the ball spinning off the racket on a hard-struck forehand on the Taube Family Tennis Center courts.
By the time that happens, it will be nearly 10 months since Stanford's last match – a dramatic 4-3 victory over No. 5 Ohio State on March 4. The No. 13 Cardinal trailed 3-1 before Filip Kolasinski, Timothy Sah, and Neel Rajesh rattled off consecutive singles victories to rally the team.
The high from that match made the shutdown even more difficult. The team had come off a tough stretch, but a team meeting and "our best day of practice," preceded the Ohio State victory.
"We continued with that energy and felt as good about where we were as a team as we had all year and arguably in my six years as coach," Goldstein said. "I loved where we were as a culture, with guys pushing one another to get better. We were fired up for the rest of the year, no doubt about it. We were in a really good place at that time."
The Cardinal felt it had turned a corner, but a byproduct of the shutdown was that it allowed those such as Kontaxis to shine in a different areas off the court.
"The Stanford community values the contributions that we can make in different ways, and Christian represents Stanford and our team and our community really well," Goldstein said.
His experiences during the pandemic reinforced Christian's career choice of medicine.
"You need doctors when times are the toughest," Kontaxis said. "I want to be a person that will contribute when the world is kind of falling apart. That's something I want to do."