When a veteran learned that his friend’s teenage daughter with Down syndrome didn’t have a date to the prom, he flew 400 miles to her hometown and offered to be her date.
Emily Wheeler was only six weeks old when doctors told her mother that she had Down’s syndrome. And as she grew older, her mother learned she wasn’t like other kids. She had a learning disability.
Despite her condition, Wheeler learned sign language and fluently used it to communicate with others. She knows how to convey her messages and express her feelings.
The College Prom
When Wheeler turned 18, she had a college prom, but she couldn’t get a date. At that point, she had no idea that her stepfather’s friend, Andrew Duffy, would travel from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to her home in Devon, UK.
Duffy met Wheeler at her mother’s wedding in 2014, and when he learned that she didn’t have a prom date in 2016, he knew exactly what to do. He drove to Edinburg Airport and flew to Bristol, and then drove to Wheeler’s house. He recalled:
“When I heard she had no one to take her to prom, I was really upset for her – who wouldn’t want to take her?”
Taking Her to Prom
Duffy was a veteran who served in Iraq, leaving him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was proud of serving his country but had no idea that being a soldier would leave him with emotional trauma.
He believed going to the prom with her changed his life.
When he came to Wheeler’s house on June 16, 2016, he presented her with flowers and asked her to go with him to the prom. The teenager donned a cute blue dress and looked beautiful in the makeover her sister did for her for the occasion.
She Saved His Life
Later that night, Wheeler was voted prom queen. Duffy was happy that she went to prom with him, but he later explained that he didn’t accompany her to gain popularity.
“I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for her. I can honestly say that girl saved my life,” he said. Duffy believed spending time with Wheeler always positively impacted his life. He felt the girl took away all his worries.
Since he had PTSD, Duffy often felt anxious and needed help, and spending time with Wheeler helped with his condition. He believed going to the prom with her changed his life, explaining:
“Being around people like Emily makes you understand there is life outside your own problems.”
He Feels Proud
According to Duffy, the best thing he had done in his life was to serve his country. Next to that, he believed taking Wheeler to prom was another thing he felt immensely proud of.
After spending time with Wheeler, Duffy thought she somehow “absorbed” negative energy, which helped him feel better. He now believes people struggling with PTSD or other such conditions can heal by being with people with Down syndrome.
Her Mother’s Reaction
Wheeler’s mother, Vikki Findlay, felt so good to see Duffy treat her daughter kindly. She knew something special about her daughter made everyone fall in love with her.
Findlay added that Wheeler was always delighted to see Duffy, and the most amazing part about their relationship is that the teenager didn’t know she was helping the veteran heal.
The Online Reaction
When netizens learned about Wheeler and Duffy’s story, they couldn’t help but post messages of support. Here are some of the comments from a Facebook post about them:
“You are both amazing people. Keep enjoying each other. So glad you took her to her prom and that you both connected so well. God bless you both!”
― (@Genevieve Junette) June 30, 2016
“What a beautiful woman you are, Emily. You look just like a porcelain doll!!! Congratulations on your graduation!!! And Andrew, you are a hero.”
― (@Jennifer Tremblay) June 29, 2016
“Andrew, you are a man with a heart of gold! Emily, you are so beautiful both inside and out! Love this story.”
We wish Wheeler all the best and hope she and Duffy continue to keep each other’s lives better with their unique friendship. What an inspiring story of love and support!