Tears streamed down Katie Zettle's face Sunday as she hugged 9-year-old Eddie Jones for the first time since she helped rescue him from a backyard pool last month.
Michaela Polak, 7, smiled shyly nearby. She was also swimming in the pool Aug. 3 when the two children bumped heads and nearly drowned.
A joyful ceremony at St. Johnsburg Fire Company on Sunday was filled with tears and laughter as local officials honored Zettle; her husband, Russell; and another neighbor, Gail McCracken, for their "extraordinary" actions in helping to save Michaela and Eddie.
"I thank God," said Dorothy Gray, Eddie's great-aunt and custodian. "I thank all the ones that saved my baby. I never, ever want to get a call like that ever again."
Eddie, a Buffalo fifth-grader, was swimming at the home of his teacher, Tracy Polak, when he and Polak's daughter, Michaela, banged heads in the deep end while chasing after a dive stick.
Tracy Polak screamed for help before jumping in to pull Eddie out. McCracken, Polak's next-door neighbor, was the first to run out. She helped pull Eddie from the side of the pool and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"It all happened in a split second," McCracken recalled. "God had his hands on all of us that day."
Katie and Russell Zettle also heard the screams and helped Polak and McCracken continue CPR on both children. Neither had been trained in the resuscitation technique.
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour praised the work of the three as instrumental in helping to save the children during the three minutes before sheriff's deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians arrived at the Homeyer Road home.
"We all know that we had a happy ending that day," Voutour said.
"A hero is an ordinary person who does extraordinary work. Everybody on that team, the civilians, the neighbors, the mom -- no one will disagree that was extraordinary work."
Voutour also extended his praise to the 27 rescue workers from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, the St. Johnsburg Fire Company, Tri-Community Ambulance, the North Tonawanda Fire Department and Rural/Metro Medical Services who responded to the call of a "possible double-pediatric cardiac arrest."
And he praised Michaela's mother, Tracy Polak, for her quick thinking. "The actions of Tracy, I think, go above the term 'hero,' " Voutour said.
"When you see children in a pool and one of them is yours, anybody else would have panicked. Tracy didn't panic. She did everything right."
Life for Eddie and Michaela has returned to normal in recent weeks. Eddie is back playing football as a wide receiver for a team in a local league. Michaela is dancing and attending Girl Scouts. The accident, their families said, hasn't slowed them down a bit.
Eddie, his great-aunt said, came home from the hospital a day after the accident and went to see a doctor that Friday.
"By Monday," she said, "he was back at football."