The Creighton alumnus who's helping to bring back sports and keep people safe
The Creighton alumnus who's helping to bring back sports and keep people safe

In Creighton Connections, we speak with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends about their experiences in the face of a changing world.

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What Chris Kratochvil, BA’87, MD’92, does for a living is hard to explain — at least succinctly.

“My kids still periodically tell me they have no idea what I do,” he says. “It is a little complex.”

Kratochvil now holds more than half a dozen leadership positions in the medical field. And in the wake of COVID-19, all roles have converged into one 24-7 occupation with a crystal-clear purpose: fight the virus, keep people safe.

Kratochvil’s latest role is chair of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Though he has done (and continues to do) so many different things in the health care arena, it’s this role that’s provoked the most interest among his family and friends. 

“It makes sense,” he says. “People are just so passionate about sports.”

Through the task force, Kratochvil and other Big Ten representatives are trying to bring sports back. The games will ultimately go on, albeit in a modified form. The task force is helping to figure out how that will look. 

Since early March, all 14 Big Ten institutions have met weekly (and virtually) with conference commissioner Kevin Warren.

“The core principle of the task force,” Kratochvil says, “is, how do we optimize the health and safety of the student-athletes, the staff and the fans?”

Like many people, Kratochvil misses sports. Like every other Creighton fan, he was deeply disappointed to see the basketball season cut short. Over the past few months, he says, the absence of sports has revealed to him the necessity of sports.

“Athletics are part of the glue that brings our society together. They drive enthusiasm and camaraderie. It’s been remarkable to see the passion people have toward athletics, how much they miss sports and how important it is for athletics to come back.”

To be sure, Kratochvil is trying to bring back a lot more than sports. 

In his various roles — including associate vice chancellor for clinical research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and vice president for research for Nebraska Medicine — he and his teams are helping to ensure that everyone can safely, gradually get back to their lives, in Omaha, Nebraska and beyond. 

Right now, Kratochvil himself is helping to get a lot of different entities at a lot of different levels all pointed in the same direction.

Every day, Kratochvil and his team talk to federal, local and state officials, including Gov. Pete Ricketts. They work with the Centers for Disease Control on preparedness and training. They identify and develop new treatments for coronavirus.  

They go to meatpacking plants and long-term care facilities to offer guidance. They work with the Department of Defense and an active-duty Air Force team to safely deploy COVID-positive patients to the hospital. This spring, a member of the team flew to the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess, bringing back to the facility many of the passengers infected with the virus. 

And that’s really just scratching the surface of all the things Dr. Kratochvil has his hands in. 

Over the past two decades, his role at UNMC has evolved dramatically. He started as a clinical instructor of psychiatry, working on neuroscience drug development, and soon moved into research administration. 

Kratochvil’s career took a sharp turn in 2014, when the Ebola outbreak activated Nebraska Medicine’s clinical biocontainment unit. Kratochvil joined the clinical research side of the biocontainment team, shifting his focus to identify treatments for Ebola and other infectious diseases. 

“It was a good match, and we’ve continued to work together and grow our teams,” Kratochvil says. 

Six years later, these experiences and partnerships left Kratochvil well-positioned to help lead the way in the fight against COVID-19. 

Keeping people healthy, safely reopening parts of society — that’s a team sport. And, to borrow another sports metaphor, it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

“In the meantime, we’re going to need to work together, to support each other, to have each other’s backs,” he says.  ”Again, it all goes back to teamwork.”

And for Chris Kratochvil, the theme of teamwork all goes back to Creighton.

“As a community, Creighton is supportive of the individual, but it is also, in turn, trying to make sure that each individual is coming together to help to support the community. 

“Creighton promotes that idea of community, of service, of playing your part in the greater good — whether that be globally or locally, in Uganda or your own backyard.”