LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Some people don’t believe in fairy tales or happy endings.
But Erin Smith and Alex Barker do. And it’s because they’ve shared a journey that not even the best Hollywood writers could imagine.
The story begins in 2013. Erin, from Linwood, has moebius syndrome, a rare cranial nerve disorder that causes facial paralysis. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the condition affects 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 500,000 newborns.
Several years ago, Erin joined a moebius syndrome Facebook page. In September 2013, she discovered Alex, from Coventry, England, was a member, as well.
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“Since he lives in England, I thought that was really cool,” Erin said. “I said, ‘Hey, maybe I can make a friend in England.’”
The couple quickly became Facebook friends and started to chat back and forth through Facebook messenger. With each day, they grew closer.
Soon, Erin and Alex made plans to meet face to face. Every two years, there is a national conference for moebius syndrome across the country. The couple decided they wanted to meet at the July 2016 conference in Los Angeles.
In 2015, Erin and Alex video chatted on Skype for the first time. The couple was adamant about meeting in California, but Alex decided that he’d like to visit North Carolina first.
“I had a week of holiday (vacation), and I didn’t know what to do with it,” Alex said. “Then I thought, well I’ll go see Erin and her family, and if they’re wonderful that’s great. If they’re not so wonderful, it’s only a week.”
So Alex arrived in Lexington in November 2015, and the first place he went was Wine Sellars Wine Shop and Bistro — which happened to have at least 100 people there ready to meet him.
“After the shock, I was touched by how warm and friendly everyone was,” Alex said. “And of course, like in all the best stories, we fell in love.”
The couple was overjoyed to finally see each other. Erin was emotional about not getting to see Alex again until the July 2016 conference.
However, Erin’s dad, Bobby Smith, had a better idea.
He wanted Alex to come back on Valentine’s Day as a surprise.
In February 2016, Erin thought Wine Sellars was just holding a fundraiser to raise money for her trip to the July 2016 conference in Los Angeles.
Little did she know that it would be a romantic…