Kaden James, 11, of Turner holds the pearl necklace and earrings that will be a very unexpected Christmas gift for his mother, Michelle James, seen in the photo. “He was so polite … and so appreciative,” says Day’s Jewelers Assistant Manager Vanessa Phipps. “It was really kind of what Christmas is all about.” Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

AUBURN — Kaden James’ mom has had a terrible year.

Doctors have performed 16 surgeries on Michelle James and amputated her left leg in a bid to fight off a flesh-eating bacteria that has left her in the ICU at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, according to her mother Diane Trepanier.

Monday night, after visiting his mother at the hospital, 11-year-old Kaden went grocery shopping with his grandmother at Shaw’s Plaza in Auburn. He told her he wanted to check out games at Game Stop and also slipped into Day’s Jewelers next door.

He told the sales staff how much he had in his savings account and said that he’d like to buy something beautiful for his mom for Christmas.

“As they started talking a little bit more, he explained how long his mom had been in the hospital,” said Vanessa Phipps, the assistant manager at Day’s. “He was very humble and very sad. KimBeth (Merchant), one of our sales associates, is a fan of all Hallmark Christmas movies – it reminded her of every Christmas movie. She’s like, ‘We have to do something.’”

The staff brought out three pairs of earrings and asked him to pick one, then they wrapped up that pair and a pearl necklace and handed him the bag.

“It was really precious,” Phipps said. “He had tears in his eyes because he was so touched. ‘You guys didn’t have to do that, I don’t want to take this.’ I told him, ‘When you come shopping for your girlfriend, make sure you come see us.’”

Trepanier, Kaden’s grandmother, said the family from Turner has had a very rough year.

Kaden James opens the box holding earrings in front of his grandmother Diane Trepanier at their home in Turner. The earrings and a pearl necklace were given to Kaden by employees of Day’s Jewelers in Auburn after they heard how he wanted to get his mom a nice Christmas gift because she has been in and out of the hospital over the past nine months. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Michelle James, 45, noticed a blister on her foot in February. Two weeks later, after a family vacation to Florida, the blister was still there and starting to bother her when she got up in the morning, Trepanier said.

“I didn’t like what it looked like,” Trepanier said. She urged her daughter to go to the doctor. “From the doctor she went to the emergency room. From the emergency room, they gave me 24 hours to decide to either take her leg or she wouldn’t be living in 48 hours; she was so sick and had a flesh-eating bacteria in there.”

Michelle James had been taking immune system suppressants for arthritis, complicating her recovery.

“By being on immune suppressants, she’s never been able to fight infections, and that’s pretty much what happens,” Trepanier said. “They kept having to cut more because the infection kept coming back.”

Trepanier said she was shocked to see the sixth-grader meet back up with her in Shaw’s supermarket Monday night with a bag from Day’s Jewelers in his hands.

Kaden told her the story.

“I said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ ” The pair walked back to the jewelry store together.

“When I went in, they said they’d never seen such a polite little boy in all their lives,” Trepanier said. “I thought that was amazing.”

The staff was in tears. It turned out one of them had known Kaden’s mother from several years before. Trepanier thanked them profusely.

Kaden will give his mom the gifts on Christmas, in the hospital.

“I feel so good for him; it made him feel good,” Trepanier said. “He’s been having a hard time because he’s really close to his mother. It’s been rough. She hasn’t been home in nine months – she’s been in and out from the hospital to a nursing home, from the nursing home to the hospital.

“(There’s) so many bad people in the world and so many bad things they do, and when something like this happens, I think people should be noticed for it,” she said.

Phipps said six staffers pitched in to cover the cost of the jewelry.

“Of course, his mom’s story is very sad and unfortunate, but it was mostly him and how he wanted to give what little he had to give his mom something special,” Phipps said. “He was so polite and kind and so appreciative and it was really kind of what Christmas is all about.”

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