By Brad Reynolds
Your child is only five months old when you sense something is wrong. She sleeps too much. She doesn’t gain weight. She vomits far too often.
You take her to the hospital, and the doctors confirm your fears; her immune system is compromised. Her white blood cell count is down. She has E.coli. They speculate that it might be leukemia. But it’s worse than that.
She’s in the hospital for two weeks. In this amount of time, she contracts four viruses. There’s something other than cancer at play. You’re flown to Seattle for more specialized treatment.
Doctors there determine the cause of her immunodeficiency; she has ΙκΒα (I kappa B-alpha). It’s a genetic mutation so rare that fewer than two dozen people have it worldwide.
Now your daughter is one of them.
For Katie Whitmore of Fairfield and Pat Foster of Havre, this isn’t hypothetical. Their daughter, Finnley, was diagnosed with ΙκΒα in 2015. Since then, she’s endured an unfathomable series of medical treatments, including chemotherapy, a stem cell infusion, and five of the most powerful tuberculosis medications available. In winter 2017, she went into a coma and awoke one week later unable to walk or talk. She has received two bone marrow transplants over the course of her life.
In January 2020, she will be five years old.
It’s been a heart retching fight for Katie and Pat to keep Finnley healthy. But thanks to their community, it is not a fight they face alone.
“When we went in for Finnley’s first transplant, people sent us gift cards for coffee and groceries. We got four to five care packages a day—for months—from people all over the state. Schools everywhere in Montana did a fundraiser where students could pay one dollar to wear a hat to school. They raised $28,000 for us,” says Katie.
One Fairfield fundraiser raised $24,000 for Finnley’s second bone marrow transplant, and there have been thousands more raised in the community since then.
“I met a lot of parents in Seattle who were struggling to make ends meet. They’re in a big community and not getting half the support Finnley is,” Katie ruminates. “I think it’s a Montana thing. I always knew I was from a good community, but this leaves me speechless.”
Finnley has been doing much better after her second transplant, and with the infusion of stem cells, her bone marrow is 100 percent donor. The fight isn’t over, but it looks more hopeful by the day—thanks, in part, to those who have shown compassion for Finnley and her parents.
“This community has kept me going on days when I felt like giving up,” says Katie. “I can’t say thank you enough. They’ve cared for Finnley as one of their own.”
For information on how you can help, visit Prayers for Finnley Grace on Facebook.