While in Atlanta with his Chicago Cubs, pitcher Ryan Dempster will spend time with children who have 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and their parents, of which he is one.
Dempster’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley, was 4 days old when diagnosed with the genetic disorder commonly known as 22q or DiGeorge syndrome. It’s caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22, and can cause a wide range of problems including heart defects, issues with breathing, the gastrointestinal tract, immune and endocrine systems, the palate, growth rate and learning disabilities.
“It affects kids differently,” Dempster said. “There’s 186 symptoms, so some kids could have three or four things and some could have a hundred things. It’s a genetic disorder, so there’s no cure. We were lucky we found out she had it when she was 4 days old, versus finding out like some parents when their kid is 3 years old or 5 years old. That’s kind of what we’re trying to promote, early diagnosis so at least the parents have a plan.
“We knew early, so we knew to start on her speech and start on her immune system, making sure things were right.”
Riley Dempster could not swallow for nearly the first two years of her life.
“She’s 3 now. She’s doing awesome,” Dempster said. “She’s tiny, because it’s hard for her to keep weight on; she’s got an overactive metabolism, things like that. But her big thing at first was she couldn’t swallow at all. She had a feeding tube and a trach. She doesn’t have any of those now. She swallows and eats everything on her own, eats what her brothers and sisters eat.”
Dempster hosted children with 22q and their families at Monday night’s series-opening game against the Braves at Turner Field. Braves catcher Brian McCann helped him set up the event.
“McCann said he’d help me out, just to bring more families together,” Dempster said. “I’m just one parent. I’m not going to change the world. The more parents that talk about it, the better it is for them. We have these events and parents will say, ‘I’ve never met another parent with a kid who has this.’ And all of a sudden they’re meeting 100 other parents and realizing there’s a big community of kids who have this. It’s the second-most common syndrome, behind Down syndrom. It’s also one of the most undiagnosed.”
Dempster had a similar event for families last season when the Cubs visited Atlanta. There are major 22q clinics and research centers run in the city at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University Medical Center.
On Tuesday morning, Dempster will visit 22q patients the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
The veteran right-hander has also been among several pitchers the Braves have considered trading for before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Dempster, 35, is currently on the 15-day disabled list recovering from a strained lat muscle, but he threw off the bullpen mound Monday without incident and could be activated soon.
Dempster’s 3-3 record is not indicative of his strong performance in 12 starts. Before his injury he ranked among major league leaders with a 2.11 ERA and 1.025 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).