March 20, 2017 9:45 pm

Air Force veteran attends ball with the girl he saved after Hurricane Katrina

It was a long road for one U.S. Air Force vet to find the little girl he rescued from Hurricane Katrina. When he found her, it was a reunion to remember.

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Michael Maroney and Lashay Brown go way back.

In 2005, Maroney was serving as a para rescue jumper with the U.S. Air Force, and was working to lift people out of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

He was flying over New Orleans when he spotted a three-year-old girl in pink standing below him.

Her name was Lashay Brown. She and her family had been stranded without food or water for days when Maroney spotted her.

“I was having a horrible day,” he told Mississippi-based network WXXV 25.

“But she was having a worse day, but she was just smiling.”

Maroney pulled Lashay and her family to safety, and the girl immediately touched his heart.

“When I pulled her mom up, her mom was scared,” Maroney said. “Lashay rubs her mom’s back and says, ‘It’s OK mom, we’re safe now.’

“And she wasn’t just talking to her mom, she was talking to me.”

READ MORE: 10th anniversary of Katrina met with church bells, prayers and celebrations

As a longtime member of the U.S. military, Maroney had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But then Lashay gave him a hug, and as he told WXXV, “all my pain went away.”

Someone even snapped a photo of their moment together.

Maroney would spend nine years trying to reconnect with the little girl he saved.

They finally met again on talk show The Real in 2015, and a friendship was solidified, WKOW reported.

Maroney inspired LaShay, now 14, to join the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). The corps held a ball at LaShay’s high school in Waveland, Miss. over the past weekend.

READ MORE: Hurricane Katrina: before and after photos show rebuilt neighbourhoods

Her date? Maroney.

“I knew that he was more experienced and he would help me along the way,” she told WKOW.

But there’s plenty that Lashay has done to help Maroney, too.

“If she needed a heart or a lung, I would give it to her,” he said. “That’s how important her hug, her family is to me.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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