Cannon Tedder
Courtesy Denise Tedder
May 09, 2018 03:52 PM

Denise Tedder was over the moon when she welcomed her second son, Cannon, on Aug. 11, 2015.

“Everything was perfect. He was the perfect baby. We were very excited,” Denise, 31, gushes to PEOPLE. “There were no signs at all that there was anything wrong with him. He looked like a healthy newborn baby. There were no complications with the delivery.”

In the months after his birth, Cannon was a bubbly little boy who was always smiling. But Denise and her husband Dustin Tedder, 35, soon noticed something odd about the baby: Cannon would only use his left arm, often holding his right in a bent position. So, they took him to a doctor, who eventually delivered heartbreaking news.

“That’s the first time a doctor mentioned the word ‘stroke,’ ” Denise says, noting that doctors determined Cannon had no broken bones and his nerves functioned properly. “The doctor thought Cannon had a stroke because of the way he kept his right hand in a fist. He kept his thumb tucked in the fist which is a sign of a stroke in a child.”

Cannon Tedder
Courtesy Denise Tedder

Denise and Dustin, who first shared their story with Love What Matters, were shocked and in disbelief, she says.

“We were certain that it was not a stroke,” Denise tells PEOPLE. “We would have known if he had a seizure and we never noticed anything. We never would have imagined that a baby, or an unborn baby, could have a stroke.”

Under the doctor’s instruction, the Tedders took Cannon to get an MRI. Photos from the MRI showing the then-14-month-old’s brain proved the couple wrong. In the picture, the right side of Cannon’s brain appeared “full and healthy,” while the left portion was “dark and empty.”

Doctors confirmed that the baby suffered a “massive” stroke during Denise’s third trimester. She says doctors told her the stroke was “strong enough to kill a grown man.” Thus, the left portion of Cannon’s brain appeared damaged, showing no activity.

From left: Dustin, Cannon, Landon and Denise Tedder
Meredith Hall Photography

“I felt like I was punched in the stomach. I had no breath in me,” she recalls of the moment she got the news. “I couldn’t even think about anything. Every time I looked at Cannon, I hurt. I was scared and I didn’t know what it meant. A bunch of questions were going through my mind.”

Doctors were shocked looking at Cannon, an alert, vibrant and talkative little boy. They told Denise that a stroke of that magnitude should have left the boy unable to hear, see, or talk. Denise says it simply “didn’t make sense that Cannon could suffer that massive of a stroke without” any severe effects.

“It was very shocking to doctors. The doctor said the image of the stroke did not match the baby in front of him. he was interacting with the doctor just like a normal baby,” the mom of two tells PEOPLE. “He was playing with toys, he was talking, he was just like an average 14-month-old. They’re all concluding this is because the brain has rewired itself.”

Now, Denise says, six months after they received the life-changing news, Cannon is thriving. Despite attending occupational, physical, and speech therapy each week, “he’s running around just like a normal 2-year-old,” she says.

“His cognitive and social skills are way above what they should be. He’s feeding himself with both hands! He’s holding a baseball bat with both hands! He’s a very spunky little boy,” she gushes.

However, she adds, they don’t know what will happen as Cannon grows older. Doctors say the boy may begin to suffer seizures.

“The hardest part is not knowing what the future looks like. It’s hard to know what his future holds,” she says. “What’s it gonna be like with him in school? How’s he gonna be able to keep up with everyone else when he’s working with half a brain?”

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