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Middle school student dies of H1N1

Oliver Franklin Finley, age 11, a Hastings Middle School student and the son of Steve and Nancy Finley, died last Saturday afternoon of complications from the H1N1 flu virus.

"He passed away from pneumonia," Nancy Finley said. "Oliver was severely disabled and wasn't able to cough."

Oliver was at Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul for 10 days before being transferred to Children's where they had a more advanced piece of equipment to help him breathe. But it wasn't enough.

"We were with him when he died," Finley said. "I'm thankful we were able to do that."

The flu, Finley said, made the rounds of her family, their nurses and personal care attendants. Steve and Nancy Finley have a large family, made up of biological, adopted and foster children.

"I forget who came how," Finley said, "But they're all family."

HMS principal Mark Zuzek described them as "a profoundly loving and supportive family who have opened their doors to a number of children who come from difficult life situations."

"The flu went through the family," Finley said. "Everybody got it. Fifteen people between family, nurses and (personal care attendants) had it.

"Oliver got sick two weeks ago Sunday. On Monday, we called the ambulance."

Another son was coughing when the paramedics got there, and they, and the deputies with them, kind of raised their eyebrows, Finley said. The next day, one of the same deputies was back at the house with an ambulance to pick up her second son. 'The guy who was coughing, right?' he asked." That son spent five days in the hospital and is now back at school.

"But he could cough," Finley said. "Oliver couldn't."

"Oliver just had a crappy deal. He had problems with his lungs. Toward the end, he had respiratory distress syndrome. But he fought a good fight."

Something good came of Oliver's illness and death, according to Finley.

"I have a motto," she said. "You know the motto that says when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Well, you can make sour lemonade or you can make sweet lemonade.

"Three people got an organ they desperately needed when Oliver died. That's sweet lemonade."

"Something good came of it."

Oliver was physically and mentally impaired, "severe to profound," his mother said. "He was in the DASH program at school."

His physical and mental problems stem from his birth, according to his mother. Oliver was born in Greenville City, S.C., Finley said. He's an adopted son.

"He was a twin, but the twin - a brother - died two weeks before they were born and that's what caused the problems."

Oliver will be cremated and the Finleys plan to travel to South Carolina next spring and try to find his birth parents and his foster mother, to tell Oliver's story and to give them closure as well.

Because of Oliver's age and because of the eighth-grade girls who often volunteered at the DASH program Oliver attended, and because of the large number of Finley children, Oliver's memorial service at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, at Rivertown Church will have a sense of children, perhaps with balloons.

"Oliver loved music and attending school; he smiled and was full of laughter," Finley said.

Zuzek said there is H1N1 virus at the school.

"It's here in the building," he said. "But that doesn't mean everyone's going to get that ill."

Finley agreed with Zuzek.

"I have four challenged children," she said. "The two hardy ones got it. My fragile little butterflies didn't."

The staff at the schools is urging everyone to wash their hands often, cough into their elbows, and to stay home if they're ill.