Wednesday, Dec 19 2012 06:04 PM

Couple turns loss of son into Christmas cause, gifts for other families

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A large photo of Austin Kallenberger who died when he was only three months old this past summer hangs over the fireplace mantle of the Kallenberger's home above the Christmas stockings and near the Christmas tree. Stephanie and Geoff Kallenberger have been using their home to prepare many items to be used for their "Christmas Cause," for children in hospitals.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Stephanie Kallenberger, left, and Lynn Bradshaw prepare and pack crayons, activity books and little reindeer to be sent to children in hospitals for Christmas.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ginger and Roger Spradlin, left, Geoff and Stephanie Kallenberger, center, and Geoff's mother, Loraine Kallenberger, right, prepare gift coffee cards as part of the "Christmas Cause," gift packages to be sent to hospitals remembering their three month old son, Austin Kallenberger that Geoff and Stephanie lost at only three months old this past summer. A portrait of Austin hangs over the fireplace above the Christmas stockings.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

Austin Kallenberger's life was short but if his parents have their way, his legacy won't be.

Austin, Stephanie and Geoff Kallenberger's third child together, died this summer when he was 3 months old. Still reeling from their loss, the Bakersfield couple decided to bring comfort and hope to families spending the holidays in the hospital with sick children.

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Action for Austin Foundation

You can learn more about the Action for Austin Foundation and how to donate at and

In October, they gave out more than 1,000 bags of Halloween candy at hospitals' pediatric and neonatal intensive care units and Ronald McDonald Houses in Bakersfield, Madera and Los Angeles. This week the Action for Austin Foundation will deliver 250 Christmas bags to be filled with stuffed animals, blankets, devotionals and the message "Hope Changes Things" to children and their families in intensive care at Bakersfield hospitals and the Maxine Dunitz Children's Health Center at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, as well as the three Ronald McDonald Houses.

"If you don't have hope, then it's already over and it's really, really easy to lose (hope) in (the hospital)," said Stephanie Kallenberger, 31. "And I know that people look at it and go, 'Well, look where it got you, your son died anyway,' but it got me through it."

Austin was born on April 11 in Bakersfield with a host of medical problems. He was never able to swallow and developed pneumonia when he was 8 weeks old. The root of his problems was never diagnosed, his parents said.

When they learned that Austin's life would be short, the Kallenbergers decided to bring him home from Cedars-Sinai, where he spent most of his life. He came home in an ambulance to hospice care and one month later, on July 18th, Austin stopped breathing while Stephanie held him.

In the midst of their grief, the Kallenbergers latched onto words of encouragement from their pastor and a friend's suggestion to reach out to others in Austin's memory.

Roger Spradlin, the senior pastor at Valley Baptist Church who lost a child himself when his 6-year-old daughter was hit by a car, said he told the couple not to waste their sorrows.

"You're gonna have sorrow, you're gonna go through grief. The question becomes, what is that gonna do to you? Are you going to become bitter, or better, how are you gonna face that?" Spradlin said Tuesday night as the holiday bags of goodies were assembled at the Kallenbergers' home.

The Kallenbergers decided to reach out to other families in the midst of their grief with the help of their family and friends.

"You see these families (with sick children) and your heart breaks for them because you know what they're going through," Stephanie said.

The couple said they can relate to these families since they have been in the same place.

"Until you are in that situation, you have no idea how bad it really is," said Geoff, 31.

The Kallenbergers netted between $4,500 and $5,000 for their Christmas project through donations and fundraisers. Aside from the gifts, the foundation is also sponsoring a Bakersfield family for the holiday.

The Kallenbergers said they've already filed their paperwork to become a nonprofit, with themselves and their friend Lynn Bradshaw at the helm.

"(The foundation is) such a way to keep Austin's memory alive and it's leaving a lasting memory for years to come," said Scarlett Sabin, house director of the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House. "It shows what special people live in the community for something this powerful to start (here)."

The foundation's work may be healing for the Kallenbergers, but Geoff said sometimes the project makes things harder because it reminds him of their loss. Sitting on the couch where Austin died in her arms, Stephanie said the Christmas cause has helped keep her busy, but the holiday season is tough. "Baby's First Christmas" stuff seems to be everywhere.

But the foundation's work helps preserve her memories of Austin, she said. On Monday night, Stephanie recalled his "gentle, little soul" and mellow nature. She said she feels he would be happy with the work being carried out in his memory.

"There is life after (the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), if you get to take your child home or not, there's life after," Stephanie said.



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