A big smile spread across Jessica Shaikhar's face Monday afternoon when she met her guardian angel.
Jessica, 9, had a chance to say thank you to Carl Keenan, the 22-year-old Kansas University student who pulled Jessica out of an apartment complex swimming pool Sunday, saving her from drowning.
Also ready with a round of thanks were Jessica's father, Jawahar Shaikhar, and her grandmother, Sowndarya Kolluri.
"He's an angel to our family, now," Kolluri said.
About 2 p.m. Monday, Jessica was released from Lawrence Memorial Hospital and returned to her father's apartment at the Sundance Apartments, 1421 W. Seventh St.
Shaikhar, from India, who has lived in Lawrence only about two months, was sleeping in the apartment shortly before noon Sunday when Jessica and an 8-year-old cousin wandered outside. Kolluri was working in the kitchen and didn't realize at first the children were gone, she said.
Jessica and her cousin, Neha Sunder, walked to the swimming pool, according to Shaikhar's and Kolluri's accounts. They still aren't sure how Jessica ended up in the pool, but she may have walked in from the shallow end to retrieve a doll that had fallen in the water, they said.
Neha, realizing her cousin was in trouble, began knocking on doors seeking help.
That's when she found Keenan.
Keenan went to the pool and jumped in when he saw Jessica underwater in the pool's deep end.
In the meantime, Kolluri had started looking for the girls and was alerted to a problem at the pool. She saw Keenan as he was pulling Jessica out of the water.
"I was screaming and crying," Kolluri said. She recalled Keenan telling her "Don't cry; she's alive, and she's going to be OK," Kolluri said.
Someone called 911, and Lawrence Police and an ambulance from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical arrived.
Jessica was in the hospital's intensive care unit until about 10:30 p.m., Kolluri said. She must take medication for the next several days and return for a doctor's checkup in 10 days. She also has to build up her lungs by blowing into a special tube.
Shaikhar said he was awakened to a scene of confusion.
"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "Everybody was upset."
Jessica said she doesn't remember what happened in the pool. She said she remembers getting a lot of attention at the hospital.
Shaikhar and Kolluri are still shaken by the incident. "It feels like it's all been a bad dream," Kolluri said.
But it was a bad dream with a happy ending, they also noted.
In addition to the praise they heaped on Keenan, Shaikhar and Kolluri also complimented Neha for being alert and going for help.
"She kept her head and reacted quickly," said Kolluri, who was visiting from New York. "She was very brave."
Keenan, who also lives at Sundance, said he is trying to keep up with the media attention. Shaikhar invited Keenan to his apartment Monday afternoon to thank him and let him meet Jessica under less-stressful circumstances.
"I didn't expect all this," Keenan said of the media attention. "I was just glad I could help. I hope she's going to be all right."