A Vietnamese teen whose story touched hearts when he came to Canada for life-saving treatment as a boy eight years ago, returned this summer to reunite with the family who cared for him as one of their own.

Son Pham was 10 years old when he came to Canada to treat the football-sized facial tumour that made it difficult for him to eat or breathe. He ended up calling Halifax home for more than two years.

This summer, Pham made his first trip back to see his hosts, the Walter family.

For Son, now 18, the visit has been about saying thanks for the goodwill of Canadians, and the kindness and generosity of the Walter family, which includes Olwyn and Alan Walter, and their two daughters, Robyn and Carolyn.

“It’s kind of my second family in Canada,” Son told CTV Atlantic. “Olwyn and Alan is kind of my second mom and dad and the two girls are kind of my sisters.”

For more than five years, the Walters have been talking to Son on the phone every two or three weeks.

“We would see photographs that he would send us, but nothing like seeing him in the flesh,” said Alan Walters. “Here he is, a grown boy.”

And one who still enjoys a good game of chess, much to the chagrin of Alan Walters.

“It’s not that enjoyable for me because he keeps beating me at chess,” Alan says with a laugh.

Turning serious, Alan adds: “I’m just thrilled to be able to enjoy a game with him.”

Son’s “sisters”, Robyn and Carolyn, say the visit was just like old times. The girls and Son quickly got “comfortable” with being around each other, and now, Robyn said, “it’s almost as if he never left.”

Olywn said, since he left Canada, Son is taller and his English has “improved remarkably.”

Son has also finished school, having graduated grade 11, but isn’t interested in attending university.

“I really like to sell things so I’m interested to sell motorcycles,” he said.

For now, though, Son is working on his family’s rice farm in Vietnam.

John Mitchell became best friends with Son in grade 5 and says this summer, it didn’t take long to pick up from where they left off.

“His personality and his characteristics are the same, which is really refreshing because so many people change,” Mitchell said.

When Son first came to Canada in 2007, he was first sent to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where it was decided he could be best treated at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Through fundraisers, donations and the generosity of friends and strangers alike, Son underwent more than 20 procedures which led to his remarkable transformation.

Olwyn said the doctors in Boston told them if he had returned to Vietnam without treatment he likely wouldn’t have lived to see his 18th birthday. In February, Son turns 19.

“He’s touched so many lives and made us really appreciate what we do have, and focus on the important things,” Olwyn said, adding “It just fills my heart to see the kind of man he’s become.”

With a report by CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster