If you believe in fate, you won't have a difficult time believing that Peter Zonakes was fated at birth to be a doctor.
Or that he was meant to bring his practice to Payson.
When Zonakes was born 51 years ago, he was delivered by a student at the Indiana University Medical School ... the very same institute from which he would graduate 24 years later.
A couple of months ago after the Rim country's only ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Kent Cox, decided to relocate to California Zonakes and his wife, Barbara, jumped at the chance to move to Arizona from Valparaiso, Ind., a town of 32,000 outside of Chicago where they had lived and worked for 22 years.
It wasn't until after Zonakes had made the decision that he happened to notice something remarkable while gazing at a globe of the world.
"My ancestors come from a small village called Zakros on the eastern-most tip of the island of Crete in Greece," Zonakes said. "If you look at the latitude of that village, it is the exact same latitude as Payson, Arizona."
No matter if those details are fate or wild coincidence, Zonakes is thrilled to be Payson's newest physician.
"My wife and I have always loved the southwest," he said. "We've been taking most of our vacations over the past 10 years either in Arizona or California.
"We decided on Payson because, one, it needed an ENT since one was leaving, and it presented a very good opportunity from that perspective.
"Also, I come from a part of the country that has extremely harsh winters and extremely harsh summers, and I wanted to get away from those weather challenges."
Not to mention air quality.
"Where I come from has most of the domestic steel production and a good amount of oil-refinery capacity, and because of that, the air quality is worse than horrible," Zonakes said.
"When I first came to Payson, I hadn't breathed air this clean since I was a little kid and being able to breath without coughing is a definite quality-of-life issue."
He's confident, however, that Payson's clean air won't cut into his business.
"I am used to doing nasal and sinus surgery, and treating nasal and sinus problems on patients that are breathing arguably some of the most polluted air in the United States," Zonakes said.
"So if in fact I can manage to successfully treat people who are constantly breathing air of that quality, imagine what I might be able to do for people who are breathing ozone-free air such as we have here."
But it's not just the air that makes Zonakes feel at home in the Rim country.
"For the past 22 years, I lived in a smaller town that was a 1.5- hour drive from a major metropolitan city," he said. "It's exactly the same except the drive down the Beeline Highway is better than any drive I've ever had. And culturally, Payson is everything that I've been accustomed to over the last two decades. So in many respects, it's as if I've been here most of my life."
It was early on in that life that Zonakes knew he had no choice but to become a doctor knowledge that was turned into inspiration by a younger cousin who had been born totally deaf.
"I was fascinated with the limitations and disability that somebody would have to endure throughout their life, the additional training they would have to have, what treatment options were available to them," he said. "Once you get a feeling of empathy for someone like that, it stays with you. It started to influence my thinking in terms if diseases and disabilities, and everything just seemed to go from there."
He said he was always interested in the diseases of the ear, nose and throat.
"My interests were always in the sciences, and going to medical school became a natural outgrowth of maintaining that interest.
"... As anybody in surgical training might tell you, the first time that they actually perform a surgery, it's like having a front-row seat at the Discovery Channel. It's an exhilarating feeling to be able to apply what you have learned for the first time."
Zonakes applied what he learned so well that he was only 24 years old when he graduated from medical school, and a mere 29 when he became board certified.
"There have been very, very few people who have been able to beat that record or come close," he said.
And now, Zonakes is very pleased to be putting his knowledge and experience to work in his office on the northeast corner of the Beeline Highway and Bonita Drive.
"The patients in Payson appear to be very grateful for the care they get, and they're very friendly and cordial," he said. "Everyone is smiling, everyone is helping everybody. It's a wonderful environment. It's very refreshing."
Name: Dr. Peter Zonakes
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
Family: Married to wife, Barbara, for 15 years
Inspiration: The previous generations.
Greatest feat: Becoming a doctor at 24 years old.
My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... Hiking.
The three words that describe me best are ... Imaginative, loyal, human.
I don't want to brag, but ... If I do, tell me to stop.
The person in history I'd most like to meet is ... Any Apollo astronaut.
Luxury defined: Being warm and dry.
Dream vacation spot: The California coastline.
Why Payson? Clean air and an opportunity to make a positive impact on a community.