GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - A teenage girl suffering from a rare disorder had a special date to her prom in Gaston County this weekend, former Carolina Panther receiver Steve Smith Sr.
Eighteen-year-old Aubrey Bridges has autism and a rare disorder called "vein of Galen Malformation." Communication is a struggle for Aubrey but she saw Steve Smith dance on video once and thought he'd be a fun date.
A dream date, you could say.
Aubrey has been featured as one of our #MollysKids, children anchor Molly Gr antham showcases in spite of uphill medical battles they face. Molly worked with Charlotte-based "Dream On 3", a charity that provides sports wishes for kids with challenges.
Dream On 3 coordinated every detail down to getting 37-year-old Smith excited about North Gaston High School's prom.
"Only, honestly, we didn't have to get him excited," says Brandon Lindsey, founder of Dream On 3. "The second we asked him if he wanted to participate, he said he wanted to ask her himself. That it was the guy's job to ask the girl. He was in from the beginning, just because he wanted to be. He was fantastic."
Steve had his daughter tape a cell phone video weeks ago, as a promposal for Aubrey.
Aubrey, who lives in Bessemer City with her parents, talks mostly in sign language or by using a communication device. She replied through that device.
"Yes Steve, I want to be your prom date," she replied.
Jump ahead to Saturday, April 23rd. A massive limo was d ropping Smith – the first Ravens player to be asked to a prom – off at Olio's restaurant where Aubrey has having dinner with her family.
Steve walked in, rose corsage in hand.
He was a gentleman, from beginning to end. Danced in the middle of the floor with all the students (even while still recovering from his lower leg injury.) Talked with everyone and took photos.
And in a little known fact, Aubrey's mom said Steve came to meet Aubrey and their family earlier in the week. He came alone. It wasn't for publicity. No one asked him to go. He brought her a diamond earrings and necklace.
When we asked Steve why he made that trip, he said he just wanted to make Aubrey's night special and didn't want prom to be their first "date."
"All these obstacles that she has been through," he said. "The high expectations her family has put on her. The fact she has met them all. That's how we should know her. That's the label I think she deserves. 'Aubrey. The Girl Who Has Overcome the Challenges'. Not 'Aubrey. The Autistic Girl'."
Aubrey's mom, Linda Gaster, says everything about the experience really was a dream come true.
"Aubrey doesn't really have a concept of celebrity," she said. "So if she likes him, she's going to like him for him. And, she does. You could tell by how comfortable she was throughout the evening and on the dance floor."
But the biggest surprise of the night might be what happened at the end. In a student-body vote, Aubrey was named Prom Queen.
"The student body voting her to be Prom Queen shows exactly how much respect she has from them," Steve said afterwards. "This community has challenged her. They've pushed her. She has rose to the occasion. I see why she's loved her and why she has succeeded."
Mom and dad left the dance smiling.
"We see a new confidence we didn't see before," mom Linda said. "She has always been a really hard worker. She works from the time she comes home until bedtime on her studies because she's very challenged with them. But tonight is the reward. Tonight is the validation. Tonight her story is being told because he is willing to share who he is with her. We couldn't be more proud."
WEB EXTRA: To find out more about Dream On 3, click here.