Then Bentley made the decision that changed everything. Ignoring conventional wisdom limiting the jurisdiction of a foreigner in a strange land, she assigned herself as the child's advocate. Doctors discouraged her. They had never seen anyone so badly burned. No matter how much time and money she spent, they warned, this boy is dead.
Bentley named the boy Levi. She liked the sound of it. Later she learned the word means "to bind and unite." She liked the sound of that even more.
Levi's first surgery was a success. Doctor's removed part of his left arm and performed numerous skin grafts. But days later, infection set in. They operated again, taking more of his left arm. There would probably be more amputations.
Bentley flinched. Levi's scarred face and body were bad enough. She felt as though she was losing him limb by limb.
That's when an orphanage colleague told her of an e-mail from a Boston surgeon. When told of the burned orphan, the doctor had offered to come to China. Bentley wanted more. Why not take the baby right to physicians at Boston's Shriners Hospitals for Children, where they could use their own equipment in their own surroundings?
She began a race to accomplish something others considered foolhardy: getting a dying, undocumented Chinese baby into the United States. She hadn't even registered Levi's hukou, or permanent residence, with Chinese authorities.
Such documentation takes months. Bentley had days, if that. Chinese doctors were preparing for another surgery, perhaps to amputate the boy's remaining hand. She had to act fast. With the help of orphanage staff, she began a telephone and e-mail campaign aimed at foreign charities here and government offices in China and the U.S.
With each call, she learned a little more about how things get done in China. Hardball was out. She had to use connections, or guanxi, with people who were sympathetic to the boy's plight.
"I couldn't go in as the pushy American, become too highly emotional," she said. "In the U.S. that works. Go in, be the tough bitch, get what I want. That did not work here."
Friends donated baby clothes. Strangers who encountered the boy opened their wallets. People who knew people in power offered to make calls.
"Lisa has this innocence, this naivete, about her that gets things done. People want to help her," said Melody Zhang, associate director of an adoption agency called Children's Hope International. "She's not good in dealing with government. Sometimes she has no idea. But she ignored everything for this boy. She had this connection with Levi, a mother's love as strong as it could be."
The bureaucratic waters began to part. Levi was granted a hukou. He was issued a passport, and then a U.S. visa. Bentley's cold calls resulted in a free flight for her and the baby.
At home, the situation was not going as well. John felt Lisa was neglecting her family. She wasn't seeing the big picture.
The two bickered. Colleagues in the Christian community took notice and began to whisper. "It became a problem for our marriage," John recalls. "Nannies were raising our children. We had 25 other kids at the orphanage. This was just one child."
The tensions would eventually lead to talk of a divorce. But Bentley couldn't stop. With $50 in her purse, she boarded a plane for Boston with a baby still bleeding fluids.
Levi approaches a stranger in his kindergarten classroom.
"I only have one arm," the 5-year-old says cheerfully. "Will you tie my shoes?" He points to his left foot. "This one doesn't have any toes."
So far, he has endured more than 20 surgeries, with more to come. As he grows, scar tissue rips and bleeds and must be removed. His left ankle remains bent at an odd angle. Sometimes, children taunt him, holding out a crooked arm, saying, "I'm Levi!" Some don't want to sit next to him. People stare.
But he perseveres with the help of his mother's discipline. She treats him just as she does her biological children or his fellow adopted sibling, a Chinese-born girl named Orly, who's 9. When he falls, he gets up by himself.
Slowly, this rambunctious boy is developing a sense of self. He likes dinosaurs and singing his own rap lyrics. A recent self-image shows him as he is: a boy with a missing hand and toes. He even drew the scars.
There are setbacks. In Texas for surgery to create fingers on his right hand, Levi told the doctors he was a big boy and wouldn't cry. His mother had warned him the surgery would not produce perfect fingers, but she knew he hoped it would.
"When they removed the bandages, they were raw and stubby, not like mine," she says. "I saw his eyes. I knew his heart shrunk."
She knows his most difficult days, emotionally, are yet to come, "when he falls in love and physicality becomes an issue." It is pain even a vigilant mother cannot prevent. And today Bentley is emotionally and legally his mother. Levi was officially adopted in 2006.