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Turning tragedy into hope

On Oct. 30, 2007, Michael and Heather Kiegel welcomed their daughter, Gwyneth Lauren Kiegel.

For nearly four months, the Kiegels were living their dream of parenthood, playing with the always happy, always smiling baby Gwyneth – whom they nicknamed their “Beautiful Little Punts.”

Then, tragedy struck.

On Feb. 12, 2008, Gwyneth died while asleep – one of approximately 2,500 infants in the United States who pass away each year from SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“Needless to say, we were in complete shock,” Heather Kiegel said.

Reeling with the loss of their only child, the Kiegels took each day as it came.

Heather, in particular, credits the Virginia SIDS Alliance for helping the couple take on the grieving process.

And, it was by working through Gwyneth’s untimely passing that the Kiegels knew they had to use the devastating blow to their family to make some sort of good.

A month after Gwyneth died, Heather was talking to an acquaintance who had also lost a child to SIDS. She told Heather that she had set up a foundation in honor of her son, and each year she would orchestrate a golf tournament to raise funds.

The idea resonated with the Kiegels.

“We just didn’t want to sit back and say this happened to our daughter…We just decided to do something. It was immediate,” Heather said.

Heather left her job working as a bank financial specialist, and started the more flexible part-time endeavor of pet-sitting. In her spare time, she and Michael began searching for lawyers, setting up Web sites and collecting donations for their upstart project.

Soon, the Gwyneth L. Kiegel Foundation was up and running.

The foundation will go to helping research SIDS to find a cause — and hopefully a solution — as well as educating the community on the syndrome.

“There seems to be so much ignorance as to what SIDS is,” Heather said. “We’re learning as we go, and it’s been very healing for us.”

This weekend, the foundation is hosting its first fundraising event at the A.J. Gators in Chesapeake, located off of Cedar Road. From 6 p.m. to closing, the restaurant will be host to bands, food and drink as well as tables with information about SIDS and support groups. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the night will be donated to the foundation.

Heather said the foundation can always use monetary donations on top of gift donations that can be used in future giveaways for fundraising events. With the help of Gwyneth’s Web site, and SIDS related Web sites and networking sites, Heather said she has been amazed at the support she already has received.

“I’ve gotten donations from people I’ve never even met before,” she said. “It’s been unreal.”

While Heather says she and Michael are still going through the pain of losing Gwenyth, they also know that their daughter has been helping them make strides in helping other children, other families across the country.

“I know she wanted us to be happy,” Heather said. “She has given us strength beyond…I can’t even explain it.”

For more information about the foundation or to make a donation, log online at www.gwynethlkiegel.lifequarters.com.