While friends speculated a heart attack, the official cause of death is drowning.
Brian Kowalski, 39, a Trinity man, jumped from a boat Aug. 12 to save a child near Johnson Key. His body was found Aug. 14. His longtime partner, Michelle Andrews, said Kowalski's body was cremated and the remains returned with their daughter, Erin, to Trinity.
"We were all shocked," Andrews said about the news. "We thought there was some underlying health condition because he was in such good shape, such an avid swimmer. But considering the situation and what he was doing, the current was so intense he just couldn't fight it."
Kowalski was on a boat, and two boys, Jonathan Weir, 8, and Caden Wolfe, 7, swam while holding onto a trailing rope. When Jonathan tried to pull himself up with the rope, it got caught in the propeller, and the current started pulling him away.
Kowalski jumped in after Jonathan, who later said Kowalski had let go of him and was floating facedown in the water.
Andrews said she's felt tremendous support from the community after Kowalski's death. Many of Kowalski's family members are visiting, and Andrews said they're all reminiscing and mourning.
There is a memorial for Kowalski from 2 to 6 p.m. today at the Seven Springs Golf and Country Club, 3535 Trophy Blvd., New Port Richey. It's open to the public and several local businesses have offered to help with the services.
One of Kowalski's friends set up a donation site for Erin, 10, at gofundme.com/A-Heros-Daughter. Andrews said she plans to open a trust account for their daughter.
In 2003, while Kowalski worked for a lawn company in Tampa, Humera Munir ran out into the street holding a blue infant. She was bathing the baby, according to published reports, and went to answer a phone call. The baby's brother turned the faucet on. When Munir came back, the child was floating facedown.
Kowalski performed CPR, and after a few agonizing moments, the child spit up and started to wail.
The Munir family reached out to Kowalski's family and donated money to the fund after they heard the news of his death.
"I always think about that day," Mohammed Munir said. "God knows what would have happened if he wasn't there. I can never thank him enough."
Mohammed Munir said he plans to donate money to Erin's fund every year until she turns 20.
Humera Munir sent Andrews a message on Facebook and said that even though they'd never met, they shared a strong bond. She wanted Andrews to know that the 18-month-old girl Kowalski saved is now a flourishing, intelligent 11-year-old with aspirations of becoming president.
"Brian was always our hero, and he will always be a hero to so many others," she wrote. "Also, there are not many people in this world who can have such a difference in the lives of strangers, like Brian did for us and for the family of the little boy he saved and paid the ultimate price for."