Saturday Rez activities to benefit Gehrke baby
Seven-month-old Sophie Gehrke is at home with her family after many weeks and months living in hospitals. The community is gathering this Saturday at the Rez in Hills to celebrate her life and honor the struggle she has survived. Several local groups have planned activities to help raise funds to support the Gehrke family.

Pete and Melissa Gehrke’s  daughter, Sophie, was born November 15, 2012.

She arrived 2 1/2 months earlier than expected at 29 weeks, 3 days. Her sisters, Taylor (age seven) and Hailee (age two) welcomed her into their family.

Sophie entered this world through an emergency C-Section weighing 3 lbs, 7 oz.

Her mother describes her life as “an uphill battle from Day 1.”

She was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and a heart defect referred to as a Complete AV Canal Defect.

Sophie spent her first 78 days of life in the NICU at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls before arriving at home. Unfortunately Sophie’s medical journey did not end in the NICU.

On April 19 she and her parents traveled to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for a scheduled open-heart surgery.

The surgery repaired two holes and created two valves where there was only one.

Pete was able to stay  with Melissa and Sophie for two weeks. During that time their older daughters stayed with Grandma Lorretta in Beaver Creek.

“She was a saving grace. It gave me comfort knowing that the girls were being well taken care of and having fun,” said Melissa.

During her recovery, Sophie went into respiratory distress and was rushed to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Melissa describes the day as “the scariest day of my life and one I will remember forever.”

The issues led to another surgery on April 29, this time to repair her sternum after wires tore through her tiny bones.

She stayed at the hospital until May 10 when her family, including her dad and sisters, came to take her home again.

The homecoming made for the “best Mother’s Day gift ever.”

Sophie has remained home and life has returned to normal with everyone living in the same place.

During her short life she has had four surgeries, 15 echocardiograms, 16 EKGs, nine ultrasounds, and 44 X-rays.

Melissa warns that these numbers continue to grow as Sophie visits her numerous doctors.

Unfortunately last spring’s heart surgery will not be her last.  She faces at least one more heart surgery to correct the leaks that she still has and a possible third surgery to replace the valves.

Pete and Melissa pray that her heart stays strong until she is at least one or two years old so the doctors have a bigger instrument to work with.

“Sophie has been a fighter since Day 1 and we know she will continue to be with each surgery.”

They thank a higher power for helping them and their daughter.

“The Lord has given Sophie so much strength that I continue to be in awe over her.”

Their daughter is a happy baby with many smiles to share with the world.

“She is the toughest person I know even though she only weighs 13 pounds.

“They say that you never get more than you can handle and I truly believe that Sophie’s strength and courage has helped us get through this. She is a miracle baby and a blessing from heaven!”

Their family feels blessed to live in a giving community with supportive family and friends.

“When you look up the word ‘community’ in the dictionary, there’s no emotion to the definition. It doesn’t convey the feeling you get when you come home from the NICU and your house is decorated so your daughters can have a good Christmas. It doesn’t convey the generosity of a meal at Christmastime or the gifts/gift cards/money that people put together so we would have a little less to worry about.”

Melissa continues, “It doesn’t convey the random acts of kindness like when a group of people picked up all the branches in our yard after the ice storm so we wouldn’t need to worry about it when we came back from Sophie’s heart surgery. It doesn’t convey the sincere concern I get from people whom I’ve never met before. We are so lucky to live in a community that takes care of its own. We are truly blessed.”


Team Lorin raises funds for Sophie

Team Lorin is a group of family, friends and community members that supports children with heart conditions.

The group was started when Staci Bundesen’s cousin’s daughter, Lorin, was born with heart issues. The defects resulted in several heart surgeries.

Supporters of the family wanted to find a way to help the family through this very stressful time so they formed Team Lorin.

Lorin passed away at the age of 22 months but the group wanted to continue in her memory.

Bundesen says it is a way to “pay it forward.”

“We know all too well how stressful it is having a sick child.”

Last year Team Lorin participated in the Rib Cook-off during the Murray County Fair.

Their booth had a small silent auction and games for both adults and kids to win prizes.

It was their first “outing” since Lorin passed away three years prior.

They wanted the funds they raised to go to someone with a heart condition – in honor of Lorin. They selected a family from Tracy. The family had two sisters, both with heart conditions.

Team Lorin brought home two first-place trophies – one for best ribs and one for the most money raised.

This year Team Lorin selected Sophie Gehrke, infant daughter of Pete and Melissa Gehrke of Hills.

Their “big” fundraiser will again be during the Rib Cook-off at the Murray County Fair in Slayton on Saturday, August 17.

This year they hope to be even bigger with more silent auction items and bringing in more money. Some items collected so far include; an airplane ride over the lakes of Murray County, an autographed picture of Minnesota Vikings Adrian Petersen, a foosball table, 2 - 1 night stays at Grand Falls Casino, 4 passes to the Great Plains Zoo, 4 tickets to the Sioux Fall Canaries, 2 passes to Wild Water West, 3' party subs from Subway, 1 night stay at the Ramkota in Sioux Falls and more coming in.

Anyone interested in making a donation can contact Bundesen at or 962-3140. They will continue accepting donations until Aug. 1. The group intends to hand out a list of all items during the parade in Slayton on the day of the Rib Cook-off. The deadline gives them time to compile the list.


Sophie Supporters T-shirts for sale

Team Lorin has created T-shirts. They asked businesses in and around the Slayton and Hills areas to donate money to be listed as a Sophie Supporter on the shirt.

Adult shirts are $15 and kids/youth shirts are $12.  All proceeds will go to Sophie’s family. Pre-ordered shirts will be delivered the beginning of July. Shirts will be for sale at the Rez on July 6.

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