Jake Finbonner, Lummi, an 11-year old of considerable inner strength and courage, will be receiving the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth award today at the 77th Annual Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet, the Seattle Times reports. The award couldn’t be going to a more deserving, amazing individual.
Six years ago Jake was playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club when he fell and bumped his mouth against the base of a portable basketball hoop. As reported by James Eng of MSNBC.com, the surface of the base of the hoop contained Strep A bacteria, which causes a tissue-destroying disease called necrotizing fascitis. This extremely rare condition goes by another name—flesh-eating bacteria.
On Jake’s website, JakeFinkBonner.com, he relates that fateful day: “When I hit my mouth, my tooth pierced the inside of my lip and from that small pierce is where the Strep A entered into my body. By the next day I was fighting for my life.”
Jake was hospitalized for months. He underwent several surgeries as he fought for his life.
“They had taken him apart. There was nothing to see of Jake’s face except his nose and chin. Everything else on his head was completely covered in bandages,” his mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told MSNBC.com. Doctors told Elsa and her husband, Don, that the outlook was grim.
The doctors told the Finkbonners that now was the time to pray. A priest, and family friend, Fr. Tim Sauer, was called in to administer last rites. “When I was called to the hospital it was basically to help the family prepare to say goodbye and let go. His probability of survival at that point was very slender,” Sauer told MSNBC.com.
The Finkbonners, along with being devout Catholics, are also Lummi on Don Finbonner’s side. Sauer urged the family to pray for the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede on Jake’s behalf. The Finkbonners were joined by family and friends who prayed for Jake’s recovery. Tekakwitha was a Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656 who was disfigured by by smallpox when she was four years old.
After multiple surgeries to remove the necrotic flesh, Jake took an unexpected, and glorious, turn for the better on the ninth day of his hospitalization. This was the same day that a relic of the Tekakwitha was brought to the hospital from the national office of the Tekakwitha Conference, a Catholic Native American religious organization in Great Falls, Montana. Jake’s vital signs began improving on that day, with the relic lying on the pillow next to his head.
“He didn’t allow (the disease) to stop him in pursuing what he enjoys so much and is passionate about,” said his mother, Elsa Finkbonner, to the Seattle Times. “This has done a lot to motivate him to keep going forward with following his dreams.”
Jake’s story became international news. When the Vatican learned that the Finkbonners had prayed to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, they sent investigators to the hospital to learn more about Jake’s story. This was when doctors told the investigators they had no clear medical explanation for Jake’s recovery. These findings were forwarded to the Congregation for Causes of Saints, and now, the Blessed Kateria Tekakwith is the first American Indian to be certified a Saint by the Catholic Church. Jake’s story has had this kind of ripple effect.
NPR reported how prayers for
Annette Bagley, the mother of Jake’s best friend, told NPR how Jake’s kindergarten class began hearing from the world at large. ‘Tell them we’re praying for him in Denver! Tell them we’re praying for them in London! Tell them we’re praying for them in Israel!’ ” she told NPR. “I mean, just all over the world, so we got a big map and we had the kindergartners put pins on the map everywhere in the world where someone was praying for Jake.”
After Jake recovered, you might think that one thing he would never want to do again would be to step foot in that Boys & Girls Club where this impossible nightmare began, but that’s not the type of person he is. The soon-to-be 12-year old stepped right back on that same court to play basketball again.
So today, Jake will receive an award he richly deserves, along side some Seattle sports legends no less. The Seattle Sports Commission will be giving Jake his award alongside Seattle Supersonics legend Detlef Schrempf, who will be awarded the Paul Allen Award, given to an individual who has made a significant or compelling contribution to the local community (Schrempf and his wife, Mari, started a foundation in 1996 that has raised more than $11 million for Northwest charities), among others. One gets the feeling that despite being six-foot-ten, the former NBA star Schrempf will be looking up to Jake.
As the Seattle Sports Commission put it to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, “Now 11, after years of recovery, his indomitable spirit is an inspiration to all.”