Dance teacher assists with ‘bucket list’ wish

By on May 30, 2014
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Photo: Jenny O’Brien, owner of Dreams Dance Academy in La Fox, assists Cammy Babiarz in crossing an item off her bucket list by helping her tap dance. Photo by Debbie Behrends

LA FOX—The “tappa-tappa-tappa” of a dozen pairs of small feet was accompanied by excited squeals of glee on Sunday at Dreams Dance Academy in La Fox.

Although Cameron “Cammy” Babiarz, 5, of Wheaton, is in a wheelchair and unable to tap on her own, Dreams Dance Academy teacher Jenny O’Brien and a young assistant moved her legs so she could feel and hear the taps, too.

Cammy at 18 months of age was diagnosed with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects about one in 10,000 girls.

“I was just really touched by their story,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien became acquainted with the Babiarz family in March when Cammy’s dad, Bill Babiarz, ran across Illinois to raise awareness for the syndrome and funds for research. He made a stop in Elburn, and Jenny and her students presented him with several pairs of legwarmers for Cammy.

In the past year, the Babiarz family has raised about $90,000 for research. And Cammy has been accepted into a clinical trial starting in July in Boston for drug therapy that may reverse the syndrome’s effects.

“Hopefully this drug will be beneficial,” said Cammy’s mom, Jackie Babiarz. “(Rett’s) was reversed in mice in 2007. We’re confident there will be a cure in her lifetime.”

According to Jackie, Rett’s is not terminal, but life expectancy is “about 40” years of age. She said there was no indication at birth that anything was wrong with Cammy.

“It’s just a genetic fluke; it’s not hereditary,” Jackie said. “(Cammy) developed normally until she was about 8 months old, when she just stopped progressing. At 14 months she lost hand function, and at 18 months she lost the ability to sit up on her own.”

Tap dancing is one of the many items on Cammy’s bucket list. And that’s where O’Brien comes in.

A dance teacher for 15 years, O’Brien teaches a wide variety of styles in addition to tap dance, including ballet, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and musical theater. With no specific training for working with children with special needs, O’Brien said she loves teaching and loves working with children.

Jackie said Cammy receives aquatherapy and hippotherapy, allowing her to enjoy swimming and horseback riding. Although she is unable to speak, Cammy uses eye-tracking devices and buttons to communicate with her family and teachers.

“We were just so excited when Jenny offered this special party. It brought tears to my eyes to see how excited Cammy was,” Jackie said.

The party also was attended by Cammy’s younger sister, Ryan, 3, along with several cousins and friends.

O’Brien said she would like to start a class for children with special needs.

For more information about Dreams Dance Academy, call (630) 262-5051 or visit www.dreamsdance.com.