Andrew Cromwell didn’t know what to think when his 7-year-old son Hudson came into the house crying and holding his arm after playing football with his brothers in October 2012. His confusion deepened when he fell over unconscious while trying to take off his shoes.
The boy suffered a pediatric stroke — and life for the family hasn’t been the same since.
“That moment is burned into my memory. His eyes rolled back. I got panicked,” Cromwell says. “I was holding Hudson, half shaking him. I didn’t know how to react, it was so far out of my experience.”
Soon, Hudson’s mother Kerry, a nurse, arrived home and determined that her son was not suffering a concussion. They rushed the boy to the emergency room where doctors were “puzzled” and unable to determine what was happening to Hudson.
Hudson (left) with mother Kerry Cromwell
“Their immediate thought was it had something to do with his fall, something like a concussion,” Cromwell tells PEOPLE. “They didn’t know what to think of it.”
The boy was taken to a trauma center in Fresno, where Kerry urged the doctors to do look deeper into the matter. After several tests and scans, doctors came to the shocking conclusion: the little boy had a stroke.
“It was more major than any of us had anticipated. We were in shock,” Cromwell says of the diagnosis. “Honestly, we were trying to stay encouraged because it was a very traumatic experience not knowing what the future would be. It was shocking. You’re thinking, ‘I could be watching my son’s last breaths.’ ”
Although strokes in children aren’t common, pediatric stroke affects 12 in 100,000 children under the age of 18, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Stroke is the sixth leading cause of death in children and most children who suffer strokes are often misdiagnosed.
Hudson remained in the hospital for a month and a half, and was in a medically induced coma for one week. When he finally woke up, he was unable to speak, swallow or sit up on his own. His recovery journey continued when he left the hospital and went to in-patient rehabilitation where he learned to walk, swallow and speak properly again.
Now, five years later, Cromwell says Hudson is still struggling.
“He’s about a year and a half behind in reading and his speech continues to improve,” the father of four tells PEOPLE. “His right hand still doesn’t work! That’s frustrating.”
However, he says, the now-12-year-old is improving and working hard each day.
“He is truly an inspiring young man who refused to quit and who attracts everyone because of his amazing smile,” Cromwell gushes.