In November 2005, Blue Dragon Social Worker Bich received a telephone call from a former street kid named Hieu. On his way to work past Hoan Kiem Lake, he had stumbled across one of his old friends, an older boy named Hung, who had been missing for many months.
Hieu asked us if we could come down to the lake to help Hung. He was sick, Hieu said, and unable to walk.
What Hieu did not realise was that Hung had advanced tuberculosis. When Hung was brought back to the drop in center, we were all shocked by his appearance. Previously Hung had been unusually tall and strong for a Vietnamese teenager; now he was hunched over, and bone thin except for his horribly swollen feet and lower legs.
Hung had contracted the disease in a rehabilitation center, and was released only a week or so before we found him. He doesn't recall much about that week, other than that sympathetic passersby gave him enough food and money to survive.
As our staff rushed Hung to the doctor, and then to the TB hospital, I remember thinking that we were facing our first death in Blue Dragon, and wondered how we could comfort all of Hung's old friends. I wasn't being dramatic; Hung was barely a step away from death.
The doctors were realistic about his chances; they told us not to expect too much, but they would try. And so they did. Blue Dragon hired a carer to sit by his bedside in the hospital for some months, and slowly Hung regained his strength.
But that wasn't the end of the story. After release from hospital, Hung was living in a Blue Dragon home and continuing to take his medication. But after some months, his condition deteriorated: he had developed TB meningitis.
This time, the doctors at the TB hospital weren't so helpful. They refused to readmit Hung, insisting he just needed some more exercise or some iron tablets. The fact that Hung couldn't stand up and was hallucinating didn't seem to bother them.
Finally our staff convinced them to accept Hung, and so he started his second stint in hospital. Once again, he remained in their care for some months, and when he was released he went to live in another Blue Dragon home with somebody to look out for him around the clock.
Hung is seriously weakened by these conditions, and he might never return to 'normal' health. So our staff have had to look far and wide for a place that can train and develop Hung despite his reduced physical capacity.
Two weeks ago, Hung started learning handicrafts in a training center for people with disabilities. The work is simple, but given his condition, and the fact that he is illiterate, there are no better choices for him at present.
Hung seems happy, and is learning quickly. He lives at the center where he works, and the staff are treating him well.
What would have come of Hung if not for the TB? And what would have come of him if Hieu had not found him and called us..?
Hung will still be recovering for some time yet. He's off the medication, but still needs to visit the hospital every month. And with every passing day, he's going to be a tiny bit better. He may not be fully recovered, but he's getting there.