Seven-year-old Huang Zhuoxiang was immobile a few months ago due to cerebral palsy and his parents were at their wits end trying their best to seek medical help in China.
Now he can take a few awkward steps and gets stronger daily under the care of an American couple who came to the southern island of Hainan for business but took an unforeseen detour into a life caring for severely disabled children.
"We took him to hospitals in different cities, and tried every treatment for cerebral palsy, but the results were poor," said his father, Huang Xiangyi, a taxi driver in the city of Sanya.
Eventually they heard about the care centre run by John and Maggie Davis.
"Now, seeing him improving little by little here has really eased our hearts," said Huang, who spent his family's savings in the quest for help.
The Davises, from the US state of Colorado, moved to the sub-tropical island in the mid-1990s as consultants for its booming hotel industry but were moved by what they saw as the huge needs of local disabled children.
Today, they care and provide therapy for up to 25 children with cerebral palsy, autism, or both, at their Bright Connection centre, set up in 2004 and filled with the din of shouting autistic children and encouraging staff.
Some are dropped off on a daily or weekly basis by parents, while others are orphans who live at the centre, given up by parents daunted by the challenge of raising them.
They come from local orphanages that are either happy to unload the children or gently cajoled into it by Maggie, 66, a tousle-haired, matronly figure whose midwestern twang and folksy way are backed by a steely gaze.
"We feel we have to do this. That's what you're supposed to do -- help people who have no other way," said John, 63.
The couple declined comment on the state-provided alternatives available, due to the sensitivities involved.
But reports have emerged in the past about neglect and other poor conditions for such children.
In one of the worst revelations, a 1995 British TV documentary exposed how many orphans -- mainly unwanted girls -- were left to die of neglect. China's government called it a "fabrication".
The Davises' involvement began in 1997 when they adopted an abandoned local baby girl -- Qiongjian -- severely disabled by cerebral palsy and autism.
Officials had balked at the adoption but the Davises won them over with persistence and home-baked chocolate-chip cookies, Maggie said.
After years of painstaking effort raising Qiongjian, the couple decided to put their acquired knowledge to work full-time.
"So we said ... why don't we just open a centre, and what we've done for this one child, we can do for another child and another child," Maggie said.
Their centre provides massage, exercise, and mental stimulation for the children with cerebral palsy, a motor disability linked to damage in the brain and requiring intense physical therapy.
A greater challenge involves the children with autism, a neural condition marked by impaired social skills and behaviour.
Several of the children have minor face wounds from striking themselves. Those with the worst cases have their arms restrained as they sit in padded chairs.
"You have to just love 'em and love 'em and love 'em," Maggie said. "And of course you restrain them. You pad things as much as you can."
They also must be taught to respond to authority or risk being put in mental institutions later on, she said.
"If that happens, my fear is they'll be mixed with the adults and you can imagine what that life must be like. So for me this is their last stop."
The Davises hope to enable the children with cerebral palsy to walk and lead normal lives someday, while helping those with autism develop to the extent that they can one day find homes.
And they are claiming successes.
"In the beginning he was so wild, running around, knocking things off tables," Ying Taohua, one of the centre's staff, said of six-year-old Suxie, an autistic child.
"Now he's much better and obeys a lot because we're with him 24 hours a day."
Today, the Davises are having to turn away kids due to capacity constraints.
Relying on donations and whatever their few paying families can afford, the Davises have also established a charitable foundation to fund the centre, which they eventually plan to turn over to their Chinese staff.