Cunningham thanks first responders, doctors for saving his life

Cunningham thanks first responders, doctors for saving his life

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Craig Cunningham, captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, doesn't remember the night he collapsed on the ice before a game against the Manitoba Moose on Nov. 19.

Doctors still aren't sure how a healthy, professional athlete in his 20s could have heart problems like Cunningham did, but they have more time to research it now that he's survived the ordeal.

Cunningham thanked the doctors who saved his life and the first responders who gave him a chance to pull through long before he arrived at the hospital.

"Without them, I wouldn't be here," he said.

Cunningham's mother, Heather Cunningham, sat next to him during Wednesday's press conference. She's been by his side since the night he collapsed. She credits persistence from everyone involved and "the continued refusal to give up in a seemingly hopeless situation."

"These people are nothing short than a gift to mankind," she said. "And I will remember the gift that they have given me every time I look at my son. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

First responders started with CPR at the Tucson Convention Center. After that, a team at Carondelet St. Mary's Hospital determined he needed Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) at Banner UMC.

ECMO is a highly specialized procedure for patients who are so critically ill that no other support for the heart and lungs is adequate, according to a release from the hospital.

A rapid-response ECMO team treated Cunningham from the time he left St. Mary's until he arrived at Banner, which is the only facility in southern Arizona with ECMO services, according to the release.

Doctors said Cunningham's heart wasn't beating on its own for the first two days.

Dr. Zain Khalpey, surgical director for the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Support Program at Banner UMC, led the medical team that helped Cunningham's heart beat again.

He said that he remembers his first exchange with the man whom he just saved.

"I said 'you're going to have a tough time' and he understood and he said 'bring it on'," said Khalpey. "I think that epitomizes who he is. He's ready for anything."

Cunningham agrees that anything is possible, but he told a crowded press conference Wednesday that a return to professional hockey is doubtful.

His teammates have visited Cunningham almost daily and they said Wednesday after the press conference that they intend to keep close with him throughout his recovery.

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