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Woman with cerebral palsy to have wedding-style birthday bash

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COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Throughout the day and always at night, one Colonial Heights mother and daughter spend their time looking at and clipping out photos of long, flowing, white bridal gowns. For Lori Dawn, the bigger and more elaborate the dress, the better.

Because family, friends and neighbors know she will never get married, Lori will have a bridal-themed party to celebrate her birthday next month.

When Lori was born in October of 1973, she was not expected to live -- suffering from cerebral palsy and several other health complications.

momanddaughter

Lori Dawn and her mother, Grace Swearingen, scroll through wedding photos on their iPad.

But the baby ended up leaving the hospital and coming home. While she was never supposed to walk, she now walks. And while she was not supposed to be able to talk, she does say a few words.  Nevertheless, her doctor cautions the soon-to-be 42-year-old remains in very fragile health.

"I know I'll never get to be mother of the bride, but it doesn't mean she can't pick out her dress to be a bride," Grace Swearingen, Lori's mother, said.

Swearingen said a chance comment online prompted the decision to make her daughter's birthday all about brides. And part of the celebration includes having her own wedding dress cut down to fit the frame of her 58-pound, size-zero daughter.

Neighbors and friends are also getting in on the festivities by adding white lights to their yards and by bringing food.

"She wants the best for her and knowing she may not experience that... I think it's a great idea," neighbor Shelby Jarvis said.

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Lori's specially decorated wedding shoes. She'll wear these for added stability.

Neighbor Tom Lester called Lori a special young woman.

"You can't help but be touched by her and her sweetness and her personality and her confidence,"  Lester said.

Additionally, a friend in Connecticut sent an estate necklace for Lori to wear on her special day. Then,  a chance meeting with a man doing yard work, prompted the delivery of a marquise diamond for Lori's ring finger the very next day.

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Grace Swearingen in her wedding dress.

However,  Swearingen said the best gift to date has been seeing Lori's face the day she got to touch her mom's wedding dress during the fitting.

"To see her face open that box and touch, just touch my wedding dress, the look on her face, you can't put a price on that," Swearingen said.

Swearingen and her husband have a horse and carriage to take Lori around the block on Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m. Then she will pull back up to the house where she will walk down the aisle.

Swearingen is hopeful people will donate flowers and lights to make the setting even more angelic. It will certainly be a special night for her daughter to remember. But she hopes the event sparks a broader message.

"It's not about anything but somebody seeing her dream come true.  That you can have a disability and still be what you want to be and that's what I want people to see," she said.

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Lori at the dress fitting.