"I would go through cancer and chemo a hundred times over than to deal with this," said Finnerty, 42. "To have your child [sick] -- there are no descriptions. So I had to put myself on a back burner because I was so focused on my child."
James was hospitalized for two months then faced arduous rehabilitation to walk again. By Memorial Day he was sent home. Both mother and son received "survivor ribbons" from hospital staff.
His high school friends rallied, visiting James in the hospital and helping his parents at home. "They were terrific," said James. "They were there every day and have seen the worst of the worst. Cleaning my room had to be disgusting. I felt bad about that."
Though James will not be able to play contact sports or lift weights again, he credits his "whole sports attitude" for his remarkable recovery: "There's always room for improvement -- I applied that."
The family, including his father Thomas, who is a police dispatcher, never thought stroke would strike so young.
"Even with me being a neuro-nurse, I didn't think this could happen," said his mother. "I do feel that any child in sports who has possibly hit his head or neck or chest and they are feeling different should get scanned."
She said James has been an "inspiration."
"He can go through this and have a smile on his face like it's no big deal and laugh about his weaknesses," said Finnerty. "He's always been go-lucky and always so dedicated to football and his fitness that he wanted to do the best he could…. He just works so hard."