Hospital provides good news on health of Roadrunners' Craig Cunningham

Posted at 12:52 PM, Dec 20, 2016

One month after he collapsed on the ice, Arizona Coyotes center and Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham is likely to be released from the hospital in time for Christmas.

According to Cunningham, the road to recovery hasn't been easy. 

"For me, right now, it's just mental," he said. "I've been here so long. I look up at the roof evey day, and it's the same roof."

Cunningham remains hospitalized at Banner -- University Medical Center Tucson but is recovering well and expects to be discharged this week," the statement read.

The 26-year-old Cunningham collapsed on the ice at Tucson Convention Center shortly before a Roadrunners home game on Nov. 19. Medical personnel cut away Cunningham's jersey and performed chest compressions before transporting him to a hospital.

"I don't remember anything from that whole day," Cunningham explained. "The last thing I remember is playing the weekend before."

Several days later, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Cunningham was in "critical" but "stable" condition.

Cunningham says he doesn't know if he'll ever return to the ice.

"As of right now, I think I'm probably done," he said. "But we will see when I get back from rehab; how it goes."

His mother, Heather Cunningham, said his refusal to give up is what ultimately kept him alive. However, those who surrounded and supported him also played an important role.

"Most of all, they have refused to give up, in spite of hopelessness. They have given Craig a chance to recover, which continues to exceed anything that could ever be expected," she said.

In Tuesday's statement, Banner called Cunningham's recovery "a Christmas miracle on ice" and provided the following details on Cunningham's health, along with the circumstances that led to his hospitalization:

On Nov. 19, Tucson Roadrunners hockey captain Craig Cunningham collapsed on the ice before a game in the Tucson Arena at the Tucson Convention Center. Medics performed chest compression only CPR, the no-breaths technique developed at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, until Cunningham arrived by ambulance at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital, where CPR was continued.

At St. Mary’s, the emergency department team quickly determined that he needed to be transported to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson where he could receive advanced life-saving therapy using ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation). ECMO is a highly specialized procedure for patients who are so critically ill that no other support for the heart and lungs is adequate.

A pump circulates blood through a circuit of tubing supporting heart function and through an "oxygenator" which functions as an artificial lung. It is used to help patients of all ages with life-threatening conditions that impair heart and/or lung function. Most patients who need ECMO are almost certain to die without this level of support.

The ECMO Services Program at Banner – UMC Tucson dispatched its rapid-response ECMO team to St. Mary’s to initiate ECMO on Cunningham and carefully transport him via ambulance to Banner for continued treatment.

The team -- consisting of a cardiothoracic surgeon, a perfusionist and an ICU nurse -- can travel by ground or airplane transport anywhere in the country to reach patients in need of ECMO. Banner – UMC Tucson is the only facility in Southern Arizona with ECMO services.

At Banner – UMC Tucson, Cunningham’s condition continued to worsen. A new procedure developed by Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, using a left ventricular assist device, Oxy-LVAD, allowed Cunningham’s heart to recover.

The quick action of bystanders who performed effective CPR, the actions of St. Mary’s staff and the advanced technology and care provided at Tucson’s academic medical center have led to a truly remarkable recovery.

Cunningham is a native of British Columbia and was selected by the Boston Bruins with the 97th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. He was claimed by the Coyotes during the 2015-16 season, and he has one goal and four assists in 29 career games with the team.

Cunningham is the Roadrunners' team captain. He has four goals and nine assists in 11 games this season, and in October, he scored the first goal in Roadrunners history.