You can learn more about the Dempster Family Foundation and 22q deletion syndrome at

A salute to opening day with a serious health pitch for awareness! As Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster heads to the mound he'll focus on winning and the dedication it takes -- a lesson his daughter Riley taught him. But her focus was no game!

On the mound, he's consistent. A dependable starter who's logged 200 innings each season for the past four years. But some of his most important plays don't happen on a diamond. Instead, they take place on a slide.

This is Riley Dempster, Ryan's three-year-old daughter. On the playground, she's a tough catch.

But her dad is happy to chase this ball of energy. From the day she was born she's had to climb a few mountains to get here.

Ryan Dempster, Cubs Pitcher: "One of the big things we noticed right away while she was in utero, she wasn't getting any fluid in her belly. So we knew something was wrong, why she wasn't swallowing."

The Dempsters' doctor suspected 22q deletion syndrome -- a chromosomal abnormality that can cause a host of health issues including heart defects, lung problems, gastrointestinal complications and developmental delays. In Riley's case, feeding and breathing were her greatest challenges.

Ryan Dempster: "That was her major hurdle. She had no motility in her esophagus, couldn't even swallow her own saliva. It would pile up and she would lose breath."

Once Riley was born, she spent nearly four months in the hospital. First, surgery to insert a feeding tube and a tracheostomy to help her breathe.

Ryan Dempster: "To watch her have to battle everyday, from the time she was real young to battle just to breathe and stay alive, to the battle she went through later on in life. Definitely not an easy road."

Along the way, the Dempsters heard mixed messages. One doctor told them Riley's condition would never improve.

Ryan Dempster: "'She's going to have a trach and not be able to swallow for the rest of her life?' I remember going back to the hotel and my wife saying, 'That's not going to be the case, she'll swallow. She just doesn't swallow right now. She can.'"

Jenny Dempster was right. Riley worked hard and stepped up to the plate. After months of physical and occupational therapy, she hit a huge milestone.

Ryan Dempster: "She made it happen, sat there and went through therapy and figured out how to make herself swallow."

That's when doctors removed her breathing tube. Riley's improved swallowing helped her breathe on her own. Less than a year later, another victory -- she was able to take in food through her mouth. No more feeding tube.

Ryan Dempster: "A big challenge. But she's persevered through everything she's had and taught mom and dad along the way. Knowledge is key. You see her playing around and running around. We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for early detection."

Riley still faces a few obstacles, but this pro can handle a few curveballs.

Ryan Dempster: "She's got a lot of energy. She's doing a lot of great things, and I'm really proud of her."

An early diagnosis gave Riley an advantage. It's a gift her parents are sharing with others through the Dempster Family Foundation. This summer the Foundation will be hitting the road in a tour bus to spread awareness about 22q. You can learn more about the Dempster Family Foundation at