By Dorothy J. Gentry
Photos: Dorothy J. Gentry
A month ago, Giavona Bell and Raquel Radford-Baker didn’t know each other.
That changed Sept. 29. “That’s my sister now,” said Radford Baker. “She’s family,” Bell added.
Fate brought them together. Or maybe it was divine providence.
Radford-Baker, a Dallas school district bus driver, saved Bell’s 7-year-old son, Preston’s life. He swallowed a quarter while playing with friends on her school bus.
She administered first aid.
Their story made national news headlines and caught the attention of the Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center. Officials there invited Bell, Preston, Radford-Baker and their families to attend the Dallas Mavericks’ home opener Friday against the Brooklyn Nets.
The three – Bell, Preston and Radford-Baker-met players and posed for pictures.
Members of the Dallas Black Firefighters Association also were invited as part of the Cuban Center’s celebration of National First Responders Day on Nov. 2.
“This is so great,” Bell said of their invitation to the game. “I can’t believe this happened.”
The circumstances that brought the two families together were challenging, though there is a happy ending.
“Like I tell people, I will never forget 9-29-23,” said Radford-Baker who is a team lead driver.
That day, Radford-Baker was not on schedule to drive. However, she served as a substitute driver and believes she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
“It was destined by God for me to be on that route,” she said. “God interceded and I am forever grateful. It was divine timing.”
Preston, a first-grade student at Seagoville North Elementary School was playing with friends on the bus while it was parked outside his school. Video shows the boy putting something in his mouth. Then, something went horribly wrong.
“They always play on the bus,” said Radford-Baker. She said she realized things weren’t quite right when Preston began gurgling and throwing up.
“I thought he was sick or something,” she said. He continued and she realized he was choking. Radford-Baker sprang into action.
“I didn’t think about protocol or nothing but saving Preston’s life,” she recalled. “I wasn’t for sure what was in his throat. I just knew he was in trouble.”
She grabbed Preston, jumped off the bus and ran for help – all while performing the Heimlich maneuver on the child. “I was like ‘Breathe baby, breathe, I got you’.”
The school’s video of the incident shows Radford Baker asking a parent sitting on a near-by bench to call 911 – all while she performed the life-saving Heimlich maneuver on Preston.
Suddenly, a quarter flew out of Preston’s mouth, the video shows. He caught his breath, then told her he was okay.
Meanwhile, Preston’s mom, Giavona, got a call from the school.
Unaware of what had taken place, she said her “heart sank.”
“I immediately thought the bus tipped over or something with the kids,” she said. “My immediate reaction was just to get up and go. Luckily, my sister was there to drive me to the school,” she recalled of the incident. “I was shaking so bad I was crying and couldn’t drive. I didn’t know what was going on and my heart was in pieces.”
That dreaded feeling shifted when she and her sister drove up the school.
“When I got up there and saw my son, I went to the ground and was thanking God,” Bell said. “My son…just to see him standing there was immediate relief.”
Preston was relieved, too. “Raquel saved my life,” he said.
“She was his angel,” his mother continued. “It was an unbelievable experience and I’m glad my baby is here safe.”
It was that day that Bell, her son and Radford-Baker became inseparable.
“I have a new family member in my life,” Bell said. “Trust me, my family, my parents, we all love her to death. This is my sister.”