Kevin Cozzi and his fiancé, Maria Buenrostro, now have nearly $60,000 and counting of strangers' money to help pay for their wedding and their future together.
It is all thanks to the idea of 10-year-old Haylee Whiting, who was rescued by Cozzi, a complete stranger, off the coast of California in August.
Haylee and her mom, Samantha Whiting, of Texas, and two younger siblings were visiting family and friends in California that month when they decided to enjoy a beach day in Monterey.
Haylee was playing in the waves, with her mom and grandmother watching nearby, when the ocean water overtook her, according to Whiting.
"in just a few seconds she went from waist deep to up to her head," Whiting told "Good Morning America." "She yelled at me to help and instinctively I ran and jumped in and got to her pretty fast and I just had her on my back."
Whiting soon found herself overtaken by the waves. When she was about to go underwater again, she heard Haylee give out a lifesaving scream for help.
The fifth-grader's scream was heard by Cozzi, a former competitive swimmer who was enjoying a beach day with friends and Buenrostro.
"We were standing close to the water and I noticed a little girl struggling in the water and she was yelling for her mom," Cozzi told "GMA." "I moved closer to the water and as soon as I saw her mom struggling with her I ran into the water and told my fiancé to get a lifeguard."
Cozzi, 27, was able to reach Haylee and swim with her to the shore until a lifeguard came and finished the rescue, according to Cozzi, who said Haylee providing all the motivation he needed.
"The whole time I'm holding her up and swimming to the shore, the little girl was like, 'Keep going. You can do this,'" he said of Haylee.
Whiting was able to swim herself back to shore, where she saw Cozzi collapse on the sand once he made it back safely too.
"He started getting sick and couldn't stand and the lifeguard had to put oxygen on him," said Whiting, who had been able to say a quick thank you to Cozzi before he was treated. "The lifeguard was asking him a few questions and all I knew was that his name was Kevin and he was from Merced [California]."
Once Whiting and Haylee had recovered in their hotel room from the near-drowning, Haylee told her mom she wanted to go find her rescuer and give him some money, according to Whiting. The mother and daughter searched the beach for more than an hour, but could not find Cozzi.
The next day, Whiting went on Facebook and joined a local Merced community page in hopes of finding the hero she knew only as Kevin.
"I wrote the post and within 24 hours I found him," she said. "It was wild."
Whiting, Cozzi and Buenrostro began talking nearly daily, they all said.
Whiting soon learned that Cozzi and Buenrostro were trying to plan a COVID-postponed wedding, though Buenrostro goes to school full-time and Cozzi works full-time.
"We started talking about his wedding, and he said, 'You guys are for sure invited to the wedding,'" recalled Whiting. "And then Haylee said she wished we could do something to get money for him, so we set up a GoFundMe."
"I knew that I wanted to give him more than just I could give him, to say thank you," she said.
The GoFundMe for Cozzi and Buerenstro's wedding has now raised more than half of its $100,000 goal, one that Whiting kept extending when she saw people's generosity and learned more about Cozzi's and Buenrostro's need as a young couple building their lives together.
"Now I'm thinking maybe they could have their dream wedding, dream honeymoon and put a down payment on a new house," she said.
Cozzi said he is still in shock, both at being reunited with Haylee and Whiting and that they would want to do something so generous to thank him.
"It's just crazy that they found me three months later, only knowing my name, they make a GoFundMe and it's over $50,000 now. I can't believe it," he said. "Soon, hopefully I'll be able to take a step back and really let it sink in."
Cozzi and Buerenstro have not yet set a new date for their wedding, which they cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic because they wanted to be able to celebrate with their families without putting their health on the line.
When the wedding finally takes place, Whiting said she and Haylee plan to be there in person.
"We'll for sure be going to their wedding, 100%," she said. "He risked his life [for us]. He really did."