The Unconventional Way: Cody and Alex Koontz Reflect on Their Journeys with Pre Physical Therapy and Pre Med Degrees
Sometimes God takes you on an unconventional path to your destination. Sometimes He places obstacles in your way to steer you in a new direction. Sometimes, He doesn’t reveal how all of the checkpoints will connect.
But all of the time, He has a purpose greater than what we can ever think or imagine.
This is the truth revealed in the story of Cody Koontz and Alex Sanford.
Finding Their People
Alex Sanford of Eaton, Colorado, had known for several years that she wanted to be a doctor, so her top priority was finding a school with a pre med degree.
Even though she grew up in a Christian environment, she experienced a crisis of faith. It seemed to her that everyone who claimed to be a Christian was faking it, so she fully intended to attend a large state university. After all, a degree from a big-name school would increase her odds of acceptance into a top medical school. But to appease her parents, she did apply to a few Christian colleges – one of which was Grace College.
Alex was invited to the school’s Presidential Scholarship Days (PSD), and when she showed up, all of her negative perceptions of Christians were dismantled.
“I remember thinking, ‘This feels really different,’” said Alex. “The people I’m meeting are really authentic. They’re not trying to make themselves look like good Christians. I can be myself here.’”
Much to her surprise, that weekend landed Alex a significant scholarship. Her experience at PSD led her to decide that Grace was where she wanted to pursue her pre med degree.
Cody Koontz of Merrillville, Indiana, on the other hand, was always certain he would attend a Christian school. In fact, his dad and his older sister, Emily, attended Grace. Their positive experience convinced Cody of the value of private education.
“Something about the small size and the approachability of professors really drew me in,” said Cody. “I was between Grace and another school, but ultimately Grace felt like home. I knew I could get the kind of community I had been hoping for there.”
In the fall of 2012, Cody enrolled in the pre physical therapy program, intending to become an athletic trainer.
Alex and Cody met as freshmen residents of Indiana Hall, but their friendship really took off the next year when they became co-resident assistants.
The pair would finish up their late-night curfew checks, hop on their bikes, and stroll through the Village at Winona. As they rode, they would talk about life. Eventually, Alex and Cody’s friendship turned into more.
As their relationship developed, they grew as individuals too. But according to Cody, his college years were challenging, and he’s grateful for the supportive community he found at Grace.
“During my sophomore and junior year, I had some struggles with anxiety and depression – things weren’t going as I expected,” he said. “I don’t know if we would have the same level of support if I were somewhere else. Friends and mentors helped us navigate the hard times and come out of it stronger. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for.”
The couple found that same level of support in academics at Grace as well.
“The accountability in my pre med degree classes with Dr. Jeffries helped me to recall and integrate information, which really helped me in medical school,” said Alex. “I’m especially grateful for my anatomy course with Dr. Lee. She set me up to succeed in anatomy my first year of med school, and then I was able to teach other students in my anatomy fellowship. I don’t think I would have been in that position had I not been in that course.”
After three and a half years in the pre med degree at Grace, Alex got a job at Kosciusko County Hospital (KCH). Her applications to medical school had been denied, so she focused her energy on getting more experience in healthcare settings. Meanwhile, Cody was wrapping up his senior year of classes at Grace.
After graduating, Alex and Cody worked at KCH together before Alex was accepted to Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine. The couple got married, and after a teary send-off party with their community in Winona Lake, the couple returned to Alex’s home state of Colorado.
Finding Their Purpose
Toward the end of her pre med degree at Grace, a tumor was found in Alex’s right middle ear. It required surgery in Indianapolis, and while the surgery was successful in removing the tumor, Alex suffered from diminished hearing after that.
Sometime later, during medical school, Alex noticed she was straining to hear in her classes once again. She went to the doctor and found that she had the same tumor on her left side. This required another surgery, but this time, she needed to get Cochlear bone-anchored hearing aids.
“I was very angry with God,” said Alex. “I thought this would prevent me from continuing med school and pursuing the career I thought he had called me to. I was asking Him, ‘What is all this for?’”
Despite the difficulty, Alex persevered through her courses while recovering from surgery, and through the experience, Alex was exposed to a surgical specialty that she had not considered before — a specialty in ear, nose, and throat.
“It was pretty intense when it was happening,” recalls Alex. “But looking back now, it is clear that there was so much purpose in it. It was God’s way of leading me to my specialty and opening so many doors for me. God used that trial in so many ways!”
For the next five years, Alex worked toward her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) — and in spite of her own health challenges, she graduated in the top 10% of her class.
While Alex studied through medical school, Cody also pursued further education. After moving to Colorado, he enrolled in an eighteen-month physical therapist assistant associate program at Pima Medical Institute.
“It was super fast-paced, but I felt comfortable with it because of Grace’s eight-week courses,” said Cody. “I had a lot of classmates who were struggling with the pace of things, but I was used to it.”
After graduating from the program, Cody took a job at an outpatient physical therapy clinic in 2020. But the job wasn’t quite what Cody had expected.
“My first year was pretty tough being the year that Covid hit,” said Cody. “I really loved my work and helping patients in rehab, but I learned that I didn’t enjoy working for a large company.”
So when Alex began her rotations for residency the next year, Cody found a remote job at a marketing company and joined Alex on the road. During that time, he also worked to get his personal training certificate.
Throughout the eight months, Alex applied to 45 ear, nose, and throat specialties and auditioned in person at 12.
On Monday of Match Week, Alex learned that she matched a program. But it wasn’t until that following Friday that she learned that she matched with her top program — Oklahoma State University Medical Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.
“We spent a lot of time talking and praying about it, and we both felt like Tulsa was the right program,” said Alex. “There were multiple like-minded people there, and it seemed like a place where I could become a strong, competent surgeon.”
The couple purchased a home in Tulsa in June of 2023. Currently, Alex is in her second of five years as a PGY-2 Resident Physician in Otolaryngology.
Cody works at a running store in Tulsa while also doing personal training on the side. He enjoys volunteering and running in trail races at distances up to 100 miles.
“The job is a culmination of my experiences in fitness and recovery,” said Cody. “I have really enjoyed doing both personal assessments and group classes. It’s been a fun avenue to get connected in the running community, and I’ve loved getting to help people in this unexpected way.”
Unexpected is a word both Cody and Alex frequently use as they look back on their journey.
When Alex first considered becoming a doctor, she would have never thought that a pre med degree at a small liberal arts school would be the path to get there. But through Grace, God brought Cody into her life, as well as many influential faculty and lifelong friends.
“When I look back at our journey, it’s so evident to me that every step along the way, I had one thing in mind, but God opened a door for the perfect thing for me at that time,” said Alex. “God continually rerouted us to do the unconventional thing — but that was His perfect work and His perfect timing.”
To find your people and your purpose, apply to Grace today.