Jake Finkbonner was near death for months with a flesh eating bacteria, but made a miraculous recovery that the Vatican credited to The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, marking the second miracle for the 17th century Mohawk-Algonquin woman and clearing the way for her to become the first American-Indian saint.
Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree Monday approving the miracle attribute to the intercession of the woman, and she could be canonized as soon as February. The Vatican said it believes that the prayers Finkbonner's family directed to Tekakwitha were responsible for bringing the boy back from the brink of death.
Finkbonner cut his lip during the last minute of a Boys & Girls Club basketball game in 2006.
"I was running down court with the ball, I stopped in front of the hoop to shoot when I was pushed from behind," Jake wrote on his website. "I flew forward and hit my mouth on the base of the portable basketball hoop."
Two days later, he wrote, he was in the hospital with a strep bacteria infection that had spread across his face, head and chest.
"It's a bacteria that can cause severe infections in unusual circumstances but most of us don't ever have any problems with it," said Dr. Christopher Ohl, a doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical. "But if all of the circumstances come together and the setting is just right, it can get in through the skin and cause a severe infection."
Ohl said the chance of survival for people with the bacteria is roughly 50-50.
At the urging of the family's priest, the Finkbonners began praying to Tekakwitha, who converted to Christianity when she was 18 and became a fervent follower. Her face was scarred by smallpox as a child, but it is claimed that the scars disappeared after she died in 1680 at the age of 24.
"It's unexplainable as to why he lived," Jake's mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told ABC affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle.
Jake wrote that he has gone through 29 surgeries since he contracted the flesh-eating bacteria and said his experience has made him want to become a doctor.
"Makes me feel like I'm doing something for God, bringing more people back into his community," he told KOMO.