Lora Tompkins wasn’t supposed to run a mile in first grade. She wasn’t supposed to graduate from high school.
College was supposed to be impossible. Yet the history major, who is also a student worker with the UTSA Libraries’ Special Collections, is expected to graduate in May.
Tompkins, 26, was born with cerebral palsy with spastic diplegia, a condition caused by trauma to the brain during fetal development. Some doctors didn’t think she would survive more than 24 hours, and others thought she would spend her life in a vegetative state.
"I kind of knocked their expectations out of the park, which I like doing," Tompkins said with a giggle. "I don’t fit the mold very well."
Throughout life, she continues to do things that shock medical professionals, family and friends, such as her first-grade run. Although, she said, her body didn’t take that milestone well.
Tompkins also broke the mold at the libraries. She is believed to be the first employee to use a service animal since the John Peace Library opened in 1976.
The animal, Loki, is a 3-year-old, 60-pound, purebred poodle. He has been Tompkins’ pet since he was seven weeks old and recently started training as a service dog.
Service animals are specifically trained to perform certain tasks, and are working animals, not pets.
Loki, who was playfully named after the Nordic god of mischief, finishes his training in July, but already is accompanying Tompkins to campus and work.
For Tompkins, whose disability causes balance problems and constant back pain, Loki provides security and assistance.
"I can get around pretty well without him, but he’s an extra layer of protection," Tompkins said. "I have balance issues as part of the [cerebral palsy] and I fall quite frequently."
When Tompkins says, "Loki help," the dog lies down so she can steady her hands between his shoulder blades and lift herself up.
At home, she has the help of family. But after graduation, she plans to attend graduate school and will rely only on Loki. She hopes to get into the religious studies program at Yale or Rice.
"I try not to let my disability dictate who I am and what I can do, although reality says there are just plain things I can’t do," Tompkins said. "But I’ve tried very hard to make it throughout life without the disability taking control."