Blessed Kateri, depicted by Fr. Claude Chauchetière, is attributed with interceding when Jake Finkbonner (insert), waged a life and death battle with flesh-eating disease.

PHOTO COURTESY OF E. FINKBONNER, ST. FRANCIS XAVIER MISSION | G. BERBERIAN

Blessed Kateri, depicted by Fr. Claude Chauchetière, is attributed with interceding when Jake Finkbonner (insert), waged a life and death battle with flesh-eating disease.

July 2, 2012
ERIC MAUSER
CATHOLIC TIMES MONTREAL

When five-year-old Jake Finkbonner showed up to play his last basketball game of the season in Ferndale, Wash., he had no idea it would change his life and lead to events that would culminate in the canonization of a saint.

At that fateful game in 2006, he cut his lip after falling on the base of the portable basketball hoop. On the surface was the bacteria necrotizing fasciitis.

The bacteria infected Jake's facial tissue, and the infection quickly spread.

"By the next day, I was fighting for my life," Jake writes on his website.

His family was stunned.

"He was injured on a Saturday and by Monday he was being airlifted to Children's Hospital in Seattle," said Elsa Finkbonner, Jake's mother.

The fast-moving bacteria attack and destroy the flesh. The disease, which caused former Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard to lose a leg in 1994, has a high mortality rate.

On Tuesday, doctors informed Elsa and her husband, Donny, that his situation was critical, and that their goal at that point was to save his life.

"We were not expecting that at all; it took our breath away. We fell to our knees in prayer," Elsa told the Catholic Times.

Jake's condition remained critical for the next two weeks: His family was told several times to prepare for his death.

Given the ominous news, Jake's parents called their pastor, Father Tim Sauer, to administer last rites to their son. Sauer, who was also pastor of a predominantly First Nations Catholic parish, was familiar with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and strongly urged Jake's parents to seek her intercession.

"I did exactly as I was told and I prayed for her intercession endlessly," said Elsa. "Her relic was pinned to his bed sheets; it went with him wherever he went," she added.

HE MET JESUS

During that period – Jake later told his parents – he also had an out-of-body experience where he met Jesus with his recently deceased godfather. Although Jake wanted to stay in that experience, Jesus told him that he needed to return to his parents and younger sisters.

After two weeks of surgical interventions to arrest the spread of the disease, Jake's great-aunt brought a visitor to pray at his bedside.

"In the midst of talking with (the visitors) about Jake and his condition, the friend introduced herself as Sister Kateri. I recall looking at her with a stunned look," said Elsa.

"I got chills. . . . We had been praying for weeks for Blessed Kateri to intercede and spare Jake's life, and here was this woman and she had the exact same name," Elsa recounted.

SISTER KATERI'S PRAYERS

Sister Kateri, a Sister of St. Anne, had brought a relic of Blessed Kateri with her to pray for Jake. "I prayed with him and his family, and we placed the relic on his bed," Sister Kateri said.

It was after the sister's visit that the major turning point in Jake's recovery occurred, Elsa said.

"It was later that I heard that the doctors themselves say that this definitely is beyond any medical intervention," Sister Kateri recalled.

Jake and his family will head to Rome this fall to witness the Oct. 21 canonization of the woman who interceded on their behalf.

Jake had 22 surgeries during his first hospital stay. Nevertheless, he remains a normal 11-year-old, his mother said. He plays basketball with passion and enjoys his video games.