It was just one of their routine lunch breaks at McDonald’s, but it would prove to be a life-changing moment for Cody and Sarah Walthall.
“We tried to take 30-minute breaks whenever we could between work and classes at Victoria College,” Sarah recalled. “We were sitting in the truck when Cody told me he was going to apply to a medical school he had never heard of somewhere in the Caribbean. I said, ‘OK, sure.’”
Sarah hardly gave it another thought until two months later when Cody opened a letter and said, “I got in.”
The Walthalls, both graduates of Victoria College, then embarked on a wild journey that took them to Dominica to Miami to Pontiac, Mich., to Fort Smith, Ark., and then to Cuero, where Cody now practices family medicine and obstetrics at Parkside Family Clinic.
Cody, 31, didn’t decide he wanted to pursue a career in medicine until he attended Victoria College from 2006 to 2008.
“The instructors at VC made science and biology more likeable for me,” said Cody, who graduated from Victoria’s Memorial High School. “There are no doctors in my family, so I didn’t have a lot of medical school guidance. I didn’t know I wanted to go to medical school until about the time I got my associate degree from VC. Then I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s do it.’”
Cody received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Houston-Victoria in 2010.
He worked at an oilfield services company for six months before a friend suggested he look at applying to the Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica.
“One of my buddies who is now a doctor said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just try the Caribbean?’ So ,I applied,” Cody said. “I think it was just fate. I only applied to that one med school.”
Cody’s acceptance letter brought a stark reality to the Walthalls, who had recently married and had never traveled outside of Texas.
“We had never planned on leaving Texas,” Sarah said. “It hit me when we were at the airport. I cried. It was rough. But once we got going, it was nonstop, and I don’t think we ever had a chance to think about what we were doing.”
“We learned a lot about each other and what we can go through as a couple,” Cody said. “All we had was each other. We couldn’t depend on anyone else. We both grew up a lot.”
It didn’t take the Walthalls long to realize after arriving in Dominica that they had entered an entirely different world.
“The school was state-of-the-art, but the country was Third World,” Cody said. “We had to ration electricity. You would have to go to a gas station or grocery store and say, ‘I want 50 units of electricity.’ They’d give you a receipt with a code on it. You’d go back to your apartment and type your code on this box on the wall. Then you’d get your electricity.”
The Walthalls were in Dominica for 18 months before Cody began his clinicals in Miami and then Pontiac, a suburb of Detroit.
He then completed his internship and residency at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences West in Fort Smith before joining Parkside Family Clinic in July 2019.
“We both wanted to come back to the area,” Cody said. “Our families and all our friends are here.”
Cody has recently seen himself thrust onto the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.
“Medical professionals in rural settings are naturally prepared for situations like this,” Cody said. “We have to take precautions earlier than most hospitals. The staff at Cuero Regional Hospital is highly trained, and they’ve done an exceptional job delivering compassionate, safe and up-to-date medical care following CDC guidelines.”
Sarah, 32, obtained her associate degree from Victoria College in 2009 and Bachelor of Business Administration in management from UHV in 2011.
She said her business acumen comes in handy as a stay-at-home mother with four sons – Connor, 6; Scott, 4; and Collin, 2; and Shawn, 1 month.
“The household is kind of a small business,” said Sarah, who uses her education to handle the family finances. “You’re managing three little ‘employees’ who are running around the house.”
Cody and Sarah, who began dating when they were 16, would have never imagined where life has taken them these past 10 years since being classmates at Victoria College.
“That’s why you have to go into college open-minded,” Sarah said. “You may not know what you want to do, but just go. You may not be able to afford that at other places, but you can afford it at Victoria College. We came to VC and discovered ourselves.”
“Even if you don’t know what your degree path is, just taking your basics at Victoria College makes you interpret information differently and interpret life differently,” Cody said. “It helps you make better decisions.”