Stacy and Scot Smith had the best intentions.
They were going to use their tax refund to buy a child safety fence for the pool at their Valrico home.
But Scot was laid off three days after they closed on the house in August, and the salary from Stacy's job teaching autistic children at Cimino Elementary barely left them with enough to pay the bills and raise three kids, let alone buy the fence.
The delay led to a disaster.
On Feb. 10, their 14-month-old daughter, Ashlyn, wandered out the sliding glass doors and across the patio when no one was watching.
Stacy found her less than five minutes later.
"She was face down in the pool, close to the edge," Stacy said Tuesday, her voice shaking with the memory.
Stacy did CPR until a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy arrived at the family's home on Kristin Drive. The deputy carried Ashlyn out the front door, where paramedics laid her on the sidewalk and kept working.
"At that point she didn't even have a pulse," Stacy said. "I didn't know if she was alive."
The Smiths were told Ashlyn might not make it through the night. She survived, but doctors haven't yet been able to determine if she suffered permanent damage.
Ashlyn is conscious and seems to respond to voices and other stimuli. She appears to crack a tiny smile as she sits in Stacy's lap, but she can't hold her head up, eat, sit or scoot across the floor.
"Our gut feeling as parents, we want to say she's going to get 100 percent better, but we don't have any physical proof," Stacy said.
The Smiths also have two sons, Austin, 13, and Alex, 11.
Florida has the highest drowning rate in the nation for children under age 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in backyard swimming pools. A CDC report indicates that most often the child was last seen in the home, had been missing less than five minutes and was in the care of a parent — just like Ashlyn.
"You hear stories about this happening (to other people) and you think, 'How can this happen? How can you let this happen to your kid?' " Stacy said. "Then I think, 'It happened to me.'
"It can happen to anyone."
The same weekend that Ashlyn nearly drowned, so did a 6-year-old girl in Tampa and a 3-year-old boy in St. Petersburg.
Ashlyn requires an overnight nurse and constant care. She goes to physical therapy twice a week and soon will start speech therapy.
She makes a daily visit to a hyperbaric chamber in St. Petersburg, where she undergoes an experimental oxygen therapy that experts say can reverse brain damage.
Stacy is on unpaid leave from her job. Scot Smith got a job at a bank, but he makes only $30,000 a year.
So far, Ashlyn's care has been paid for by insurance and with donations from a local Masonic lodge, but the Smiths don't know how long the coverage will last.
Meanwhile, the community has rallied around the Smiths. The staff at Cimino donated $950 that would have been used for their end-of-the-year banquet, assistant principal Cindy Dowdy said.
The money went toward buying the Smiths the one thing that could have prevented all this: a pool fence.
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jan Wesner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2439.