by Diane C. Lade
Emily Taylor Kaufman is a young girl who has impressive ambitions: to see her name in Broadway lights, sing before thousands during a halftime show, maybe take a recurring TV show role. She also has Type 1 diabetes, a potentially life-threatening medical condition requiring constant monitoring. The Cooper City middle school student isn't about to let that get in the way of her big dreams.She's one of 10 Florida youths taking the stage on Friday with multi-Grammy-winning performer Phil Collins as part of the Little Dreams Foundation's annual fundraising dinner and concert at The Fillmore Miami Beach. "They call us 'Dreamers'. There's a lot of competition out there but I'm not afraid," said Emily, 11, an upbeat, 75 pound powerhouse whose favorite songs are 'big belty' numbers. She was picked from more than 100 youngsters who auditioned for Little Dreams in Deerfield Beach last year after singing Whitney Houston's high-pitched ballad, "I Have Nothing".
Besides Emily, other young Florida Dreamers set to perform Friday are: Brian Inerfeld of Davie; Cameron Wheeler of Pembroke Pines; Jaeden Brown of Miramar; Isabella Martinez of Aventura; Angelina Green and Nicole Acosta, both of Miami; Kyra Carrasco of Key Biscayne; Gaby Ortega of Kendall; and Sofia Delfino of Orlando.
Little Dreams is a nonprofit organization formed in 2000 by Collins and Orianne Collins-Mejjati, Collins' former wife with whom he recently reunited. The foundation helps children ages 4 to 18 who are exceptionally talented in music, arts and sports, but lack the financial means to achieve their goals. The organization enrolls and graduates Dreamers throughout the United States and Europe annually, offering mentors, free lessons and opportunities to perform in public.
"It's great exposure," said Bonnie Kaufman, Emily's mother. "[Emily] wants to inspire other children and girls to do what they want to do."Emily, who has an older brother, began imitating her singing teddy bears when she was a toddler and started vocal lessons at age 6."I would sing 'God Bless America' at parties, standing on top of tables," said Emily, who attends Pioneer Middle School. Later highlights included singing the national anthem at Marlins' baseball and Strikers soccer games and serenading legislators at the 2015 House of Representative inauguration ceremonies in Fort Lauderdale.
Kaufman said nothing in Emily's early childhood hinted that some day, diabetes would dictate how she plans her days — everything from when and what she eats to how she plays. Fun or exciting stuff like jumping on trampoline can change her sugar levels to the point she could pass out. Her mother was shocked when the family discovered, in 2014, that Emily had Type 1 diabetes, a disorder caused by the pancreas producing little or none of the insulin required for sugar metabolism. Unlike the far more common Type 2 diabetes, Emily's condition is most commonly detected in young patients and is not caused by diet.
There is no cure. Patients must regulate their insulin levels for the rest of their lives or risk falling into a medical coma.
"It's definitely a life-changer," said Kaufman.
Her mother told her of famous singers, like Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who have had Type 1 diabetes. "I told her, 'If they can do it, you can.' Of course, when she went to sleep, I would cry my eyes out," Kaufman said. One breakthrough came last summer when Emily got a high-tech OmniPod insulin system. She wears the small device directly on her skin, eliminating the need for daily shots or the tubes that, in a traditional system, feed insulin from a pump into a patient's body.
Besides reaching for her Broadway star, Emily today also is on a mission to educate people about diabetes. She won a "raising awareness" essay contest at Embassy Creek Elementary School in Cooper City last year, earning a $1,000 grant from the school for the American Diabetes Association, Kaufman said.
And Emily tapped into her love of power ballads for a public awareness video posted on her YouTube channel. The video, in which she covers Demi Lovato's, "Warrior", shows Emily in the hospital, learning how to test her blood sugar ("4,380 finger sticks so far!") and use the OmniPod, ending with information about Type 1 diabetes warning signs.
"I think diabetes made me stronger," she said, on a future in the tough showbiz world. "I think something will come up that I'll be perfect for."