Child's short life has run from abandonment in the forests of Vietnam to the caring arms of an adoptive family
Watching 2-year-old Phung Thien Nhan scoot merrily around an examination room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, making excited conversation with strangers and burning through toys with a toddler's fickle taste, one would never know that he'd been rescued not once, but twice from life-threatening situations.
The first rescue came when villagers found the newborn Nhan abandoned by his teenage mother in a forest in central Vietnam, still alive despite 72 hours in the wilderness and severe injuries from an animal mauling. Doctors were forced to remove his right leg, but they saved his life, prompting a group of Buddhist monks to give him a name that means "angelic child."
But Nhan also needed a second rescue when Vietnamese journalist Tran Mai Anh found the boy living in poor conditions with his grandparents.
Worried for the boy's safety and health, Anh fought a five-month battle to adopt Nhan with her husband, Phung Quang Nghinh, and began to raise money for the boy's medical care. Their efforts led Nhan to the Rehabilitation Institute, the second medical stop on a cross-country tour of the United States.
"He has been very happy, very active and cheerful," Anh said as she watched Nhan place stickers on her husband's face. "He's been singing a lot of songs, and he didn't sing before."
On Tuesday, Nhan was evaluated at the institute by prosthetic specialists, who said that with modifications to his prosthetic leg and physical therapy, he should be able to walk normally in a matter of years. The good news followed successful surgery in New Hampshire on groin injuries the boy suffered during his abandonment, his parents said, and accompanied an upwelling of support from Vietnamese and American organizations and citizens.
"It gives the parents a lot of hope to see a lot of love out there for them and their child," said Son Michael Pham, founder of Seattle-based non-profit Kids Without Borders, which is helping pay for the trip. "And it gives them a lot more energy and will to make sure we can do whatever is best so he will have a normal life."
Nhan's discovery was a popular news story in Vietnam in 2006, Pham said, a rare case of child abandonment in a country that prides itself on family values. But after the country's attention drifted, Nhan was sent from to live with his mother's family, who neglected him further.
When Anh found him in 2007, he was eating nothing but bananas and cold rice and sleeping in a corner of the family's hut. Alarmed, she started the lengthy process of formally adopting the child, earning guardianship in March and bringing him to her family's Hanoi home to live with her husband and two sons.
Not used to the comforts of modern living, Nhan struggled at first with simple behaviors like sleeping in a bed and eating new foods.
"Everything we gave him to eat, he threw away. I think he was scared of it," Mai Anh said. "After a few days, he began to eat a lot, and we had to hide the food."
Nhan's celebrity has also regrown in Vietnam, where his second birthday in July was celebrated by more than 100 people who have followed the boy's progress on a Web site started by supporters, Anh said.
That celebrity has spread to Vietnamese-American communities in the United States, said Greig Craft, president of Vietnam-based Asia Injury Prevention Foundation and an organizer of the family's trip. When the family ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown on Monday night, the owner paid their bill—and threw in a $100 donation, Craft said.
Donations can be made at www.kidswithnoborders.org, the family said.