No one asks teens with Down Syndrome to prom — but one man travels 459 miles across the country to be their date

For many teenagers, prom is a formative experience filled with memories and expectations. Not going on a date can be tough, but things were especially tough for a girl named Emily Wheeler in the UK a few years ago.

An unexpected date

Man in a striped shirt standing with a teen girl in a blue dress
Facebook/Andrew Duffy

In 2016, Wheeler was preparing for her prom and was ready to go on her own. However, when her stepdad’s boyfriend, Andrew Duffy, heard she wasn’t dating, he knew he had to help her. The ex-soldier first met Emily at his friend’s wedding and he quickly struck up a friendship with the girl.

“When I heard she didn’t have anyone to take her to prom, I got really mad at her — who wouldn’t want to take her?” he said to the prom Daily Mail. “I had no doubt I had to come down to Devon and help.”

Duffy had suffered from mental health issues and PTSD after touring in Iraq. But when he met Wheeler, who has Down Syndrome, he was struck by her positivity and determination.

“When I spend time with her she just absorbs every bit of negativity, it’s really quite amazing,” he added.

So he did what he thought was necessary and drove to Edinburgh Airport. From there he flew to Bristol and then drove to Barnstaple, north of Devon, where Wheeler lives.

A night to remember

According to post Office Artikel, Wheeler and Duffy had a great time at the prom. She wore a blue dress and her older sister helped her with hair and makeup. Duffy brought her a bouquet of pink roses. And at that Fat-Prom, the staff of the college’s assisted learning department even voted Wheeler prom queen, capping off the night to remember.

“I didn’t do it for any form of recognition, I just wanted to dance with her and have a good time,” Duffy added.

He also emphasized the difference Wheeler made in his own life and why it was so important to him to help her in her time of need.

“I don’t think I would be here today if it wasn’t for her. I can honestly say that this girl saved my life,” he said.

“I think the way forward is for people with PTSD to spend time working with people with special needs. If you have a debilitating illness, withdraw from society. But when you’re around people like Emily, you understand that there’s life outside of your problems.”

Taking to Facebook, Duffy added that taking Wheeler to prom was one of his most memorable moments. “What an absolute honor and pleasure to do this,” he shared today. “[Two of the] The proudest moments of my life so far: 1. Serving my country. 2. In this moment.”

You are never alone

teen girl in a blue dress holding roses
Facebook/Andrew Duffy

One of the reasons this story resonated with so many people and went viral on social media is because of its core message: friendship. Sometimes friendship – like the friendship between Wheeler and Duffy – is unexpected or unconventional. But that doesn’t make it any less valid.

Duffy found an unexpected connection with Wheeler when he saw her positivity and determination to live her own life. And Wheeler knows she can count on Duffy when it matters most.

Her story is enough to make you want to reach out to your own friends and see how they are doing. Email them, pick up the phone and call or text them, or set up coffee, lunch or dinner.

Meanwhile, there’s another important takeaway from this story that Duffy also addressed. No matter how dark things get, they get better. Even if you think you’re alone, at the end of the day, someone else probably has it worse. And if they can persevere, so can you. No one asks teens with Down Syndrome to prom — but one man travels 459 miles across the country to be their date

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