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River Falls benefit to be held for premature baby

Sabrina Rivera, 21, and Mike Koester, 25, cuddle with Nellie, their first baby daughter. Nellie was due March 4, but instead was born Christmas Eve -- 10 ½ weeks premature -- weighing just two pounds, 12 ounces.

The loving package came very early as a tiny delivery. Since then and for the foreseeable future, there's much care and expense needed to make sure baby Nellie Koester grows to be a healthy child.

A benefit fundraiser for her and her parents, Mike Koester and Sabrina Rivera, will take place from 4-9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Riverview Hotel & Suites ballroom, 100 Spring St., in downtown River Falls.

Laura Koester of River Falls, Mike's mother, says: "Nellie is my third grandchild. How blessed am I?...Michael and Sabrina are making a wonderful transition as first-time parents, and of a very premature baby.

"They are so grateful for the outpouring of support from so many local individuals and businesses so far."

Laura has lived in a River Falls townhouse since 2008 with daughter Michelle, a 2009 RFHS graduate who is a psychology major at UW-River Falls and works on Main Street at Yo-Joe's, and Mike, the new father.

Mike's had his own difficulties to overcome, having finished treatment for alcohol addiction. That includes a stay at Exodus halfway house in Hudson.

Laura says Mike has straightened out his life and has "been clean and sober for seven months."

Both mother and son attend and volunteer at Servant of the Shepherd Church in River Falls.

Mike also volunteers for Second Chances helping Don McLean with his furniture ministry. He also serves a weekly meal at Faith United Methodist Church in Hudson.

In December Laura graduated from the River Falls CVTC campus with an associate degree in science nursing. She works in the home-health care field but is looking for a hospital nursing job.

At the time Nellie was born, Mike was to move to Hutchinson, Minn., where Sabrina lives.

Laura says the couple wanted to find a home there together and for Mike to find work as they prepared for the arrival of their newborn in March.

"But Nellie had other plans," Laura said.

After Nellie's surprise Dec. 24 birth, she was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.

"Nellie is up to 5 pounds, 10 ounces, but is struggling with her feeding ability, which is not unusual for a preemie of her size and prematurity," Laura said. "She also continues to have quite a number of apnea (breathing cessation) spells, and is being given oral caffeine to assist with both of those areas.

"To go home, a baby has to meet and maintain goals set by her care team. These include intake of eight (tiny) formula and breast-milk bottles daily, ability to feed and gain weight, and to be able to pass a car-seat test without periods of apnea."

Sunday afternoon's fundraiser at the Riverview Hotel ballroom begins with live entertainment provided by five bands, a silent auction and donated door prizes.

There will also be two trips raffled off -- one to Hawaii and one to Las Vegas.

Cost to get in is $8 per person at the door.

More on this story can be found in the Feb. 14 print edition of the River Falls Journal.