Oscar, 13, seemed at ease during Thursday's Hilton Head Island Rotary Club luncheon.
He shook hands with strangers. He ate fried flounder, potato wedges and two servings of lemon cake.
He joked and smiled with Antonio Junco, the man who helped bring him to Hilton Head Island from Texcoco, Mexico, where Oscar was badly burned in a house fire two years ago that killed his father. The blaze left Oscar's face and body deformed.
"His confidence has grown so much," said Junco, a Rotary Club leader in Texcoco.
Life has improved for Oscar since he was brought to the island in June as part of the Rotary Club's Gift of Life program.
He's here for multiple operations to ease burn scars that prevent him from moving his neck, breathing through his nose and extending his right arm.
The surgeries won't free him of the scars, said Dr. Robert A. Laughlin, a retired plastic surgeon who helped start the program and who acts as medical coordinator.
But the operations "will allow him to function, to lead as normal of a life as possible."
That wasn't the case in Texcoco, a city of 300,000 north of Mexico City.
Embarrassed by his scars, Oscar covered himself in the daylight with a hood and long sleeves. He stayed away from school for two years.
"It was very hard for him," Junco said of Oscar, who does not speak English. "He had problems with the other kids."
He was discovered in January in his hometown by Florence Allbaugh, who for years headed the Gift of Life program started at the Hilton Head Island Rotary Club in 1996. Allbaugh, who now lives in North Carolina, was in Texcoco to lay groundwork for a different Rotary project, in which a visiting dental team treated 627 orphans, street kids, mothers and students in the poorer schools.
Oscar was befriended by his town's mayor and Junco. Texcoco Rotarians paid to bring him and his nurse Laura Rodriguez Martinez to the Lowcountry.
Hilton Head Hospital and staff have treated him at no cost. Plastic surgeons Dr. David Reid and Dr. Aaron Mason have donated their services. Oscar has had dental care, vision care and a local psychologist is working with him.
He is staying with Luis and Silvia De Leandro in Bluffton. The couple from Mexico City saw a post on Facebook that sought lodging for Oscar and his nurse.
"There was no question," Silvia De Leandro said.
He's become part of the family.
He goes to the grocery store with Silvia. He plays "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto V." He watches horror and action films with the De Leandro children, Alan, 15, and Karolina, 12.
So far Oscar has had two surgeries. He can now extend his right arm, and he breathes easier through his nose.
He has two or three more operations upcoming, Laughlin said. He expects Oscar to return home in six to eight weeks.
Though his scars will remain, Oscar's supporters say this journey has transformed him.
"When I first met him he was shy and withdrawn," Allbaugh said. "Now he acts like a normal teenager."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.
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