Libraries Student Worker Defeats All Odds

May 16, 2013

By Stephanie Sanchez, Communications Specialist

Lora Tompkins wasn’t supposed to run a mile in first grade. She wasn’t supposed to graduate this month from The University of Texas at San Antonio, and certainly wasn’t supposed to be a student worker with the Libraries Special Collections.

But she has done all of that and more.

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 live more than 24 hours and others thought she would spend her life in a mental vegetative stage.

“I kind of knocked their expectations out of the park, which I like doing,” Tompkins said with a giggle during the spring semester. “I don’t fit the mold very well.”

Throughout life, she continues to do things that shock medical professionals, family and friends, such as running a mile in first grade. Although, she said, her body didn’t take that milestone well.

Tompkins definitely broke the mold at the Libraries. She was believed to be first employee to use a service animal since the John Peace Library opened in 1976.

For more than two years, she contributed to several important special collection projects, including inventorying large book donations, scanning local newsletters and editing metadata for photographs, said Juli McLoone, rare books librarian with the UTSA Libraries.

Her service 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, according to UTSA’s Student Disability Services.

Loki, who was playfully named after the Nordic God of Mischief, finishes his service-dog training in July, but late last year started accompanying Tompkins to campus and work to help her get around. She also uses a scooter.

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 CP (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 lifts herself up.

At home, she has the help of family. Soon, though, she plans to head off to graduate school and will only rely on Loki. She plans to start filling out applications in August, and hopes to get into the religious studies program at Yale University or Rice University.