They may live on opposite sides of the world, but Art Sargent and Son Pham have a special connection.
The Vietnamese orphan returned home recently with a new lease on life thanks to the removal of much of a large facial tumour at a Boston hospital while he spent the past two years living with a family in Halifax. The costly procedure was made possible thanks to donations that poured in from across Canada, including the generous support of Parrsboro's own Art Sargent.
The local car dealer and blueberry farmer said he was taken with Son's story after first learning about it in a newspaper in the summer of 2007.
"I just read it in the paper," he said, pointing to the first picture he saw of the boy, who was 10 at the time. "It was his eyes. They looked just like one of my grandson's."
Hoang Son Pham was discovered in a Vietnamese orphanage by a visiting official from the Children's Bridge Foundation, an Ottawa-based charity. The football-sized growth, diagnosed as hemangioma, a benign tumour caused by a mass of blood vessels, covered much of his face.
He was brought to Canada in the summer of 2007, and spent more than two years traveling back and forth to hospitals for tests and surgeries.
Sargent jumped on board as a supporter as soon as he learned of Son's story, and has kept a close eye on his progress ever since. He has a file full of photos and news clippings, and even had the boy down to visit him in Parrsboro on several occasions.
"He was here different times," said Sargent. "I had him in the tractors, and some of the boys (who visit the dealership) met him one day."
Sargent's daughter, Stephanie Perrin, said she saw a huge difference in the boy from when they first met him and his last visit this past summer. Not only had much of the facial growth been removed, but he had learned to speak some English and was able to engage in conversation.
Sargent said it was very gratifying to be able to help out in some way.
"He never kicked once, and never complained," he said. "The nurses in Boston said they never saw a kid quite like him."
Son arrived back in Vietnam on Monday, his 13th birthday, where he will live with a foster family there. Doctors cannot perform any more surgeries on the growth until he his full-grown.
"I hope to keep in touch with him," said Sargent. "I'll never go over there, but maybe he'll write me, and maybe he won't. What was set out to do was done."