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Two-year-old Bexley Norvell of Rowlett, Texas, had a very special guest at her tea party last month.
But it wasn't just any tea party — it was a celebration of a precious bond with the man who saved her life just one year earlier.
On July 25, 2015, Officer Patrick Ray of the Rowlett Police Department was on his lunch break when he heard a 911 call about an unresponsive toddler come through. Realizing he was close to the scene, Ray immediately clocked back in and rushed to the Norvell residence.
"You just never know when an officer won't be able to make it there in time," Ray told TODAY. "I would want that to be done for me.
"Never did I ever think that I was going to be able to do what I did," he added.
"Most people say that when you're in a traumatic situation, it feels like eternity before anyone comes to help you," Tammy Norvell, Bexley's mother, told TODAY. "But for me, thank God, it did not feel that way."
Within minutes Ray arrived at the Norvell residence to find Bexley, then 22 months old, unresponsive and Norvell unsure why her daughter was turning blue, unable to breathe. (Later it was discovered that she had been choking on a penny.)
"All I could think about were my kids," recalls Ray, who has two young boys of his own. "If something bad happened to this child who was the same age as my kids, it would be really hard to take, so I did everything I could.
"And I got super, super lucky."
According to Norvell, it took Ray only 27 seconds to get Bexley to start breathing again using the finger-sweep method. Then the child was handed over to fire department personnel, who arrived on the scene right behind Ray.
As he watched Bexley being taken to the hospital, "the reality of it all started to set in," Ray said. "It became more emotional for me ... I just wanted to go home and hug my kids."
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Later, Ray went to the hospital to check on Bexley's condition. Fast-forward one year to today, when his family and Bexley's have become good friends.
"I heard that the officer had come to the hospital to check on her ... I'm pretty sure that's not required in their job description, so I had to find out his name and get in contact with him," Norvell explained.
"We've developed a strong bond," Ray agreed. He and his family have shared dinners and birthday parties with the Norvells — they even spent this past Thanksgiving together.
And as the one-year anniversary of Ray's rescue of her daughter approached, Norvell decided to mark the occasion — with a tea party.
"I wanted to commemorate Bexley's life," she told TODAY. "I thought to myself, she wouldn't be living this life if it weren't for that man, so I need to celebrate this day because I almost didn't get it."
Ray knew right away it was a special occasion. "I don't have any girls. I have boys — it's a lot of baseball and such," he said. "So this was something that I couldn't refuse.
"I knew it would be very special for her, her mom, and even my wife. It was very special for everyone. to share."
He even made it a point to display proper tea party etiquette for Bexley — choosing to squeeze into her tiny play-set chair instead of sitting on a box.
"I said 'No, if you invited me for tea, then we're going to do this the right way and I'm going to sit properly at the table,'" he said. "And I know she loved that.
"There's bad apples in every line of work, but there's not always heroes," Norvell added. "So we've got to build those heroes up when we find them."
We wish Officer Ray many more tea party invitations in the future.