Dani-Lynn Early is beaming ear-to-ear.
Dressed in a lime green dress, Dani-Lynn shines a smile to a room full of contestants, judges and pageant queens. A sparkling crown sits atop her head, and a sash proclaiming her as “Tiny Miss Universe” is placed over her right shoulder.
At just 7 years old, Dani-Lynn is a national champion.
“She gets so excited when she and I do pageants together,” said Amelia Early, Dani-Lynn’s mother. “Dani-Lynn and I both competed at the Miss Universal Global Pageant, and we both won national titles. We both will be going international next year!”
Dani-Lynn, whose nickname is ‘Nugget,’ became the Universal Global Tiny Miss USA this summer. She competed in the interview, everyday wear and evening gown competitions. She even won the presentation for best daytime wear.
The accomplishment is even more inspiring when you consider Dani-Lynn’s journey at UF Health.
Earlier this year, Dani-Lynn underwent an intensive cardiac catheterization, a procedure that examines how well the heart is performing.
Dani-Lynn has three congenital heart defects: hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart; ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart; and partial anomalous pulmonary venous return, a condition where one or two of the heart’s veins return blood to the right atrium instead of the left.
“She sees the [UF Health pediatric] cardiology team every six months. Her cardiology team keeps a very close eye on her heart,” Amelia said. “She was a rock star in the recovery [from the heart cath].”
Dani-Lynn has had several surgeries, including two open-heart procedures at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital before her third birthday. Today, she is stable with her care; however, she does not qualify for the Fontan procedure, a surgery that results in blood flow to the lungs without passing through a ventricle, or a heart transplant.
“[Although] we are just stuck in limbo maintaining, there are not enough thank-yous I can give to her care team. They have never given up,” Amelia said. “They treat her like she is their own child.”
Dani-Lynn is very active in her community. She, her sisters and Amelia often participate in community service projects around the Jacksonville area. Plus, the Early family is involved in Dance Marathon. You can often see Dani-Lynn dancing at main events throughout the spring.
And, of course, there is her involvement in pageants. Dani-Lynn most enjoys getting her hair and make-up done before competitions.
Before going on stage, Dani-Lynn and Amelia say a prayer together. This moment symbolizes an ask for strength and a time that Amelia recognizes everything she and her family are thankful for, including Dani-Lynn.
“We are very blessed God gave us the best care team for Dani-Lynn,” Amelia said.