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LEXINGTON — 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.
“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 reunion.
“Then I turn up in February and Erin is, let’s say, very amazed,” Alex said. “Because everyone knew, but everyone managed to keep it a secret.”
That week in February, the couple visited Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
Fast forward to July 2016, and the couple met for the conference. Erin bought tickets to a Dodgers game on July 10 because Alex had never been to an American baseball game.
Then Alex took Erin to the Santa Monica Pier.
That’s where Alex asked Erin to spend the rest of her life with him.
Alex had asked Erin’s father for his permission at Myrtle Beach during his surprise Valentine’s Day visit.
“When I met Erin, I knew she was the one for me from the start,” Alex said. “Because we’ve got so much in common. We got this condition, we like music, we like wine tasting and started hanging out and just doing the simple things, and I think we complement each other very well.”
A few months later during Christmas 2016, Erin traveled to England and met her future in-laws.
The group welcomed her from the beginning.
“It was amazing, and they were so loving,” Erin said. “I felt so at home. I can so see us happy in England because not only will I be with my husband and the love of my life, but I will be with his wonderful parents who I know will look after me just as well.”
Before meeting Erin, Alex was convinced that he would never find anyone that would accept him for who he was.
Erin, of course, totally changed his life’s path and mindset.
“Erin actually understands where I’m coming from,” Alex said. “And she understands that I will find things on occasion quite difficult, and she’s really good because she provides the support that I need to make things easier for me.”
Erin shared similar sentiments about having difficulty finding the right person.
Now Erin has found someone she loves with all her heart.
“Alex changed my life,” Erin said,”... He means the world to me. I couldn’t imagine my life without him right now. Thank god for technology, because we Skyped at least two or three times a week. But if it wasn’t for that, I think we would’ve still made it. We’re very devout Christians, and it’s a very important part of both of our lives. I love him with all my heart.”
The couple plans to get married Nov. 10, 2018. Before that, Erin plans to travel to England in June during the week of Alex’s birthday.
The engagement ring that is currently wrapped around Erin’s finger is a 70- to 80-year-old family heirloom, according to Alex.
To the couple, it’s a symbol of love and perseverance.
But most of all, it’s a symbol of happily ever after.
“I can’t think of anyone better to wear it,” Alex said.