Ethan Lange vividly recalls the first time he met Allison Dickson. It was a few years back when they were students at Baylor Law School.
“She struck me as a person I can be an influence on, who I can help – someone who is in need,” said Lange, who now practices law in Kansas City.
His assumptions were understandable. A life-long muscular dystrophy diagnosis meant she had no use of the lower half of her body and required great effort to use her hands – even to turn pages in a book, he recalled.
But Lange said he soon discovered his classmate had some qualities he envied, and which were vital to passing law school: an infectious positivity, a can-do attitude and a captivating smile.
So much for the helpless girl in the wheel chair, he said. She graduated first in her class in 2007.
“I couldn’t imagine how far off I was.”
Nor could he imagine how helpful she was to become in helping him prepare for exams and presentations.
“It was absolutely shocking to me — she’s a life-changer,” Lange said. “I might have helped her a little bit physically now and then, but she was the one who helped me.”
The power of faith and determination
In comments she emailed to Baptist News Global, Dickson, 36, was adamant that any influence she had on others derived not from her but from her relationship with God, generous and loving parents and wonderful friends.
And that support has helped overcome the many professional, academic and medical challenges she has faced.
The power of those relationships is evident in comments from friends, former professors and articles that have been published about the Temple, Texas, native and resident. Her achievements, she said, are testimony to the power of faith and determination.
Some of those articles are about her efforts to establish scholarships at her undergraduate alma mater, Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and at Baylor Law School.
Last year, the Allison Dickson Delta Delta Delta Scholarship was created. It’s an endowed, need- and merit-based award provided annually to one or more members of the sorority at Southwestern.
Dickson was a member of the sorority there and remains active as an alumnus – including presently serving as alumnae chapter president.
She and her fellow Tri Delts raised $25,000 for the scholarship which gave out three awards this year.
“I’m so proud of the chapter and our national sorority,” she said. “I’ll continue to work on growing that fund as well.”
The scholarship at Baylor, which is still being developed, is also named after Dickson.
“With a grassroots effort we are asking others to help and I know it will happen,” she said of the $50,000 endowment goal. “In about four months we have reached the half-way mark.”
‘Once again, doctors were wrong’
Dickson said she was prepared for the challenges of life by her struggles with Werdnig-Hoffman, a genetic, rare form of muscular dystrophy. She was diagnosed with it at the age of 15 months.
“When diagnosed, the doctors told my parents I may have a year to live. The doctors were wrong.”
Still, she’s faced major hospitalizations once or twice a year most of her life, usually to deal with dehydration and pneumonia.
In 2014 she experienced respiratory failure, septic shock and double pneumonia.
“I almost died,” she said. “I had to be put on life support three times.”
After requiring a tracheotomy to address her breathing problems, physicians suggested she may never again breath on her own. Dickson wasn’t daunted.
“Once again, the doctors were wrong,” she said.
She eventually came off life support and was sent home, though she cannot swallow properly.
“I’m not allowed to eat or drink, so I use a feeding tube to receive my medicines and nutrition,” she said.
“I would probably give my left pinkie toe for a caramel Frappuccino and Taco Bell.”
Undaunted by challenges
But Dickson said she hasn’t given up on eating and drinking on her own again. And for that matter, she hasn’t given up on anything.
“Those were some dark days, but the love and support and prayers of my family and friends got me through it,” she said. “I think God said, ‘your work here isn’t done.’”
It was that sort of calling that sent her to law school in the first place.
“I wanted to be able to help people,” she said of the law. “It was a bit of a challenge – which I never back down from.”
That didn’t go unnoticed by her peers and professors. According to an article about Dickson published online by Baylor, Dickson ‘s achievements were celebrated at her graduation.
“It was not likely she would even survive, much less succeed in life,” Baylor law professor Gerald Powell said at the event. “But she didn’t seem much daunted by what was before her.”
It was the same during her undergraduate years at Southwestern, where Dickson’s success was marked by positivity and humor.
She graduated with degrees in English and psychology from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas – summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
“Dang that one A-,” she joked.
An extraordinary life
Despite her ongoing health challenges, Dickson said she isn’t defined by them. She’s working from home on law projects and she still finds opportunities to help others.
Lange said he is one of those. He said she continues to inspire him – even from a distance. She’s an encouragement today just as she was at Baylor.
“She was literally carrying me and taking so much of the burden,” he said.
Dickson said her burden is carried by her faith.
“I’ve always felt there was a purpose and plan for my life,” she said. “I hope I can be a light for (God) and a positive example of the goodness of people.”
The adage that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle has been true for Dickson, she said.
“My life hasn’t been ordinary, that’s for sure. But it’s been extraordinary with more to come.”