A typical classroom has teachers, students and … dogs?
If you have anatomy or speech with Kimberly Pearson, a physical therapy major, you’ll notice her faithful dog Jack lying beside her. But you’ll also discover Jack is no ordinary dog, and Kimberly is no ordinary student.
Pearson is a mother of four children, as well as a staff sergeant in the military. Her husband is a drill sergeant in the Army.
Pearson has grown up in a military environment most of her life. Her parents were in the Air Force, and when Pearson herself became a young mom, she decided to join the military to provide benefits for her children.
Pearson received basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where it was, “cold basically,” Pearson said. “We had on black rubber boots, and all of us fell down the icy hill training. It was pretty tough. But we had the chance to be hands on with the weapons and get fit.”
Her second step was Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where she earned a combat medic’s badge.
After the long and tough training, Pearson was sent to Iraq in mid-2004. She was assigned to treat wounded soldiers and attached to different units wherever she was needed. However, an event that some speculated was an explosion would soon change Pearson’s life
“I remember flashbacks of various things, but I don’t know exactly what happened,” she said.
The incident had caused the bones in Pearson’s feet to become severely damaged and broken. But since there was no medical clinic, x-ray machines, or open wounds, she was given orthotics and pain medicine and kept on going. She was soon sent home in March 2005.
“I went back to Iraq in 2007,” Pearson said. “I wasn’t scared but I changed my job. I felt too close and personal to the situation. I didn’t like the feeling of having someone’s life in my hands. My new job required me to work in an office, human resources, which was less dangerous. It was a totally different experience and took some time getting used to though. I was so used to being out in the field with my medical bags and having people tell me to ‘Get down!’”
After her second combat tour, Pearson need 3 constructive ankle and foot surgeries because she was still in extreme pain and discovered that her bones had not healed properly. The cane she used to walk also put pressure on her knees and further amplified her pain.
“After my third surgery, I knew I wanted a dog,” says Pearson. “Not necessarily a service dog, just a dog. A dog would help me to rehabilitate faster and help me to walk faster. I didn’t qualify (for the dog) at first but then I went to the Second Chance Shelter in Killeen. I looked and didn’t see any I liked. They told me about a dog that was supposedly mean and had bitten a lot of people. I asked to see him. I saw Jack and we just knew. From the first moment I had him, he didn’t move unless I moved and was just a natural fit. God had put him there for me.”
Pearson then heard about UMHB’s physical therapy program and decided to apply. She was concerned about having Jack in a classroom but she was cleared to bring him. She was thrilled to learn that the faculty didn’t seem to mind.
Communications teacher Professor Owens said, “The dog is incredibly well behaved and not the least bit disruptive. It’s unusual to have a dog in class, but it’s always nice to have a dog around. I’d bring mine to class if he were as well behaved as Kimberly’s. I’m pleased that with other four-year college opportunities in the area, members of the Fort Hood community continue to recognize the value of the Mary Hardin-Baylor experience.”
Anatomy teacher Dr. Koontz agrees. “The dog is not a distraction to other students in class. It simply lies down at her feet and sleeps thru the class lectures–like a few of my students. And Kim appears to be very motivated in her studies at UMHB. She works hard in the lab as well as participates in classroom discussions.”
Another thing weighing heavily on Pearson’s mind is regarding her pending retirement. “I was supposed to go to Afghanistan but I’m getting out earlier than I thought. It will definitely be different; it’s harder being a civilian than it is a soldier. A soldier knows all the rules and what to expect while a civilian doesn’t. And my unit has been so supportive through everything so that will be hard to leave, too.”
The family tradition of being in the military continues with Pearson’s son who will be an infantry officer and will find himself deployed to the front lines very soon.
Pearson only has about a year left at UMHB but says she will miss it. “I love the environment here. It’s wonderful and peaceful and I’ve loved everyone I’ve met. I would like to open up my own physical therapy practice to help disabled soldiers one day. Similarly I could use my resources in Kentucky, go back to Ft. Hood, or whatever else God might want me to do.”
The main question however, is whether Pearson wishes she could change what happened.
“No.” Pearson says. “I certainly wouldn’t change it. I would do it over again. Would those people I helped be here now if I had left after I got hurt? Who knows, but if I only have to deal with hurt feet the rest of my life, that’s fine. And because of my accident, my relationship with God got stronger. I could have easily come back with no feet or worse. God kept me alive for a reason.”