MOREHEAD — A small child's birthday party normally isn't news, but this was no ordinary birthday celebration for 3-year-old Kinlee Keltner, whose family celebrated her life and rejoiced in the divine favor and prayers that cover her.
Last July, when Kinlee was 2, she nearly drowned in her family's pool in Morehead. Her father, a trained CPR provider, used his skills for the first time to breathe his daughter back to life.
"It was just after supper on a Friday night," said her dad, Brian Keltner.
"My dad, my girls — Taylee, Kessaney, Kinlee — and I decided to go for an evening swim. Minutes after entering the pool, Kinlee, right on cue, decided she needed to go potty," he said.
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Brian recalled how he took Kinlee to her mom, Sherridan, who took her to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Sherridan changed into her swimsuit. As the mother came out to the pool she asked, "Where's Kinlee?"
"We thought she was with you," they replied.
Sherridan immediately ran to the front door, thinking Kinlee had opened it and gone out into the road. But Kinlee had managed to open the heavy sliding glass door to the pool and entered the water on her own.
As her father began to climb out of the pool, he heard Kinlee's grandfather yell, "No!"
Her grandfather pulled her from the bottom of the pool and placed her in her father's arms.
"I began giving her CPR. At this point, Kinlee was blue, unresponsive and not breathing. As I began with chest compressions, white foam poured out of her mouth and eyes.
The fluid then turned amber-colored because blood was present.
All the while, Kinlee's mother began to pray. When she saw her husband with the child, she dropped to the ground and crawled over to them, praying and holding Kinlee's hand while Brian continued CPR.
An off-duty paramedic arrived within minutes and, finding a weak pulse in Kinlee, transported her to a waiting ambulance.
"We started praying together from the time we got in the police car to the time we arrived at the hospital," Brian said. "We prayed without ceasing, and Sherridan asked everyone she saw, the doctors, the nurses, police officers, EMTs, even the helicopter pilot if they knew Jesus, and if they did she asked them to pray."
Kinlee was given a breathing tube and induced into a coma to help her body rest while she was flown to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
Her parents could not join her in the helicopter, so they drove, praying all the way.
When they arrived at the hospital, barefoot and still in bathing suits, hospital staff escorted them to a waiting room and told them doctors would be with them soon.
"The doctors told us that Kinlee was a very sick little girl, her lungs were full of water and it appeared that she had been under water long enough to cause brain damage," Brian Keltner said.
Doctors tried to prepare them for the possibility that Kinlee probably would not make it through the night, and if she did she might never be the same.
By that time, however, the Keltner family was part of a vast and growing prayer chain for Kinlee's life.
"When she was pulled from that swimming pool Friday evening, lifeless, we began praying. We prayed without ceasing as a family.
"And as a family, I don't mean only the Keltners, I mean our church family and hundreds and thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world," Brian said.
After the report from the doctors, Brian and Sherridan began a different sort of prayer.
"We reached a point early Saturday morning where we prayed to God, 'We know she is your child and you are just letting us borrow her, if you have to take her and that is your will, we will still love and obey you, but we believe this is not your will or your plan. We pray that you would heal her and let us keep our baby.'"
Over the course of the next few days, Kinlee's condition steadily improved, and the following Tuesday she came home from the hospital.
"There was no medications, no pneumonia, no brain damage, nothing," Keltner said.
Keltner spoke of uncertainty, of not always knowing what God's plan was. He could not have known that his decision to learn CPR would one day save his own daughter's life.
The family recently traveled to San Diego as a part of the National Safety Council "50 for 50" celebration, which featured 50 survivors whose lives were saved by CPR, on the golden anniversary of the life-saving practice.
Kinlee was a special honoree and presented roses to the three doctors who founded modern CPR. She was filmed for a training DVD, and afterward the family went to Disneyland.
Less than a year after the accident, the Keltners gathered to celebrate Kinlee's third birthday on Feb. 17.
Kinlee smiled, squirmed on her mother's lap and seemed not to recognize the significance of this birthday. Her sisters and friends smiled for the camera, and dad shuttled to and from the buffet.
They are expecting a fourth child soon, another girl.
"We never take birthdays for granted anymore," Sherridan said.
Kinlee's father said the simplest gift, the ability to breathe, is the most profound.
"There are times I lay in bed and watch Kinlee as she sleeps. Listening to her breath, I just cry and smile knowing God has truly blessed us," he said.