BEIJING - Le Le stumbled into the second-floor treatment room and immediately slumped into the nearest chair. His forehead was dripping with sweat after climbing the short flight of stairs.
"Fine, fine," he gulped between breaths, as doctors and nurses asked him how he was feeling.
However, as a 10-year-old boy weighing 155 kilograms, the boy is far from fine. But he's trying. After less than a month of treatment at Beijing Huakang Hospital, he has already shed 10 kg and medics say they have seen a marked change in his mood.
"He's a lot more open and willing to talk to us," said Niu Guichen, a doctor in traditional Chinese medicine who began treating Le Le on Oct 3.
"He used to just lie in the chair and make no effort to communicate. Now he brings us candies and plants."
As well as putting him on a strict diet, Niu sees his patient five times a week for acupuncture and light stretching exercises.
Like most 10-year-olds, Le Le at first pulled every trick in the book to get out of the treatments - crying, screaming for his mother or fidgeting so much that the nurses had to give up. But the youngster has become increasingly calm during his visits.
His change in attitude has been especially encouraging for his parents, who were becoming increasingly concerned about their son's health: He has already developed a fatty liver and doctors say he runs a high risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
"He's a lot more active and looks happier. Losing that 10 kg has really boosted his confidence," said his mother.
She said that her son started gaining weight when he was one year old.
"Everything we did to try and help him lose weight either had no effect, or was too expensive to keep up or the boy refused to do it," she added.
Target of bullies
Target of bullies
Not only has Le Le's childhood obesity seriously harmed his health, it has also caused problems in and out of the classroom.
For school bullies, the child is an obvious target: He is 1.6 meters tall, weighs almost four times more than other boys his age, and he has been forced to wear the same stained and faded trousers for years because his mother struggles to find him clothes that fit.
"One mother I confronted about her child's behavior (after an attack on Le Le) insisted her son had been acting in self-defense. I couldn't believe it," she said, the anger obvious in her voice.
"I wish parents would educate their children better. His classmates should be helping him, not bullying him. It's not his fault he's like this."
Wang Chunrong, a hospital psychologist, agreed that the boy's treatment by other children may have worsened or even caused Le Le's obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"He has a compulsive eating disorder and, since primary school, has developed a habit of constantly washing his hands," he said, explaining that both are symptoms of the strain Le Le is under.
"He eats to relieve the emotional pressure, which means he ends up in a vicious cycle. The hand-washing may be from the fact he is being touched all the time by people he doesn't like."
For the medics at Beijing Huakang Hospital, the goal now is to help him lose 75 kg in two years. That will put him in line with other adolescents, said doctor Niu, who warned that losing too much too quickly can be just as harmful as being overweight.
"We just hope the treatment will allow our son to have a normal life," added Le Le's mother.