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Nurses Play All-Star Role for Cubs Pitcher, Daughter

The Chicago Cubs plan to salute nursing May 12, and pitcher Ryan Dempster has good reason to lead the cheers at Wrigley Field.

Dempster’s daughter, Riley, has been cared for by nurses during every hour of every day of her young life. She was born April 1, 2009, with a form of DiGeorge syndrome, a defect of her 22nd chromosome that inhibits swallowing, makes digestion difficult and causes more serious complications. According to a 2004 Swedish study, about one in 4,000 children are affected by the syndrome, but Dempster says new studies are coming that show it’s much more common.

A rotation of 15 nurses, all but one of whom work at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, each take 12-hour shifts on a day off to aid Riley at Dempster’s home in the city. For an indefinite time, Riley will need constant monitoring because of a tracheotomy.

Riley spent the first three months of her life in the hospital. Those times were the roughest for Dempster and his wife, Jenny, who also have a 4-year-old son named Brady.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Offenbach
Children’s Memorial Hospital nurses, from left, Jessica Offenbach, Nicole Catalano, Megan Shanley, Katie Brennan and Elizabeth Karnes attended the launch of the Dempster Family Foundation on Jan. 17 in Chicago.

“When you’re a parent and your children are sick, you can’t always be [present], and you want to think they’re taking care of your daughter like we would,” Ryan Dempster said. “They have made life for us a lot easier through a really tough time. And they’ve definitely improved Riley’s quality of life in lots of different ways.

“She’s a lot safer now. Who knows where we’d be without the kind of care we’ve received from our nurses. They’ve all been incredible.”

About half of the nurses, including Carrie Prather, RN, have been with the Dempsters from the start. The group also includes Audra Rushforth, RN; Elizabeth Karnes, RN, BSN; Jessica Offenbach, RN, BSN; Joyce Krezel, RN; Katie Brennan, RN; Marina Carrasco, RN; Megan Shanley, RN, BSN; Nicole Catalano, RN; Corina Kasprzyk, RN; Lola Feary, RN; and Mayte Aguiar-Gutierrez, RN, BSN.

Working around a Major League Baseball player — a two-time All-Star and one of the more recognizable personalities in Chicago — might sound intimidating. Not the case with the Dempsters, Prather said.

Jessica Offenbach, RN, BSN, poses with 1-year-old Riley Dempster.

“It’s not what you would think it would be for a high-profile person. Ryan and Jenny are very down-to-earth and open,” Prather said. “When you’re working there, you feel like you’re working with your family. Even though you are watching Riley and you’re making sure she can breathe and you’re making sure that her feedings are going well — which, with the medicines [she requires] is a job in itself — you want her to interact with her family and big brother.”

Dempster, who moved his offseason home from Colorado to Chicago this past fall, says the strangeness of needing home nurses faded quickly. It helped that the Dempsters knew many of them from the neonatal unit at Children’s Memorial.

“It’s one thing to have someone stay with you for a little bit, but to always have somebody there — especially overnight — I was wondering how it would be,” he said. “But everyone’s been really good about making sure our family life is as normal as possible.”

Conversely, the Dempsters have tried to blend into the nurses’ world.

Brady included.

“He knows all the nurses now, which is kind of funny,” Dempster said. “We like to make [the] nurses all feel like they’re part of the family. I know they’re working, but at the same time we do all the stuff a normal family does.”

Prather says the environment is right for Riley.

“She’s getting a lot of therapies, and she’s doing very well,” Prather said. “She’s beginning to walk now, and she’s doing very normal things that a 1-year-old will be doing.

“The other day, Riley was outside when Ryan and Jenny were planting flowers in their front yard. She was playing in the dirt. We were trying to make it as natural as possible. We want her to experience what normal kids would experience. In the back of our minds, we’re always thinking of her safety. She just has a little bit more to overcome and is faced with more challenges.”

Ryan Dempster

So, on May 12 — Florence Nightingale’s birthday and the final day of National Nurses Week — the Cubs will acknowledge the contributions nurses have made to society. The Cubs have planned a tribute at the event, which is sponsored by Chamberlain College of Nursing, Nursing Spectrum and Nurse.com, in which all nurses in attendance will be asked to rise and be recognized.

Dempster, if he’s not warming up in the bullpen because he’s starting the game, will be ready.

“I’ll be standing up in front of the dugout clapping as well,” Dempster said. “They often go unrecognized, all of the hard work they do. They work 12-hour shifts at the hospital, and they don’t stop.

“They care for those little babies and children like they’re their own. They’re pretty special people.”

David Brown is a freelance writer.

By | 2020-04-15T14:09:43-04:00 May 3rd, 2010|Categories: Greater Chicago, Regional|0 Comments

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