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Tucson Roadrunners: Craig Cunningham expected to be discharged from hospital by Christmas

The team’s captain has had a “truly remarkable recovery” after suffering a medical episode on the TCC ice

Arizona Coyotes v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On November 19th, Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham collapsed on the ice during pregame warmups.

Since then, he has been in the hospital, but details came out on Tuesday about the remarkable story why Cunningham is still alive more than a month later.

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.

After all of this happened, the team postponed three games, and returned to the ice more than a week later.

Since the Roadrunners became a reality over the summer, the ties between the Arizona Coyotes, the Arizona Wildcats, and the new AHL club were all about how everyone would benefit with improved facilities, cash flow, and training staff.

Now those ties have saved a life.

In the release, it is stated that Dr. Zain Khalpey used a new procedure he developed with the aide of a left ventricular assist device. Back in 2014, Khalpey received a $25,000 grant to study the use of stem cells for repairing damaged cardiac cells that occur during a heart attack.

The University of Arizona continues to be at the forefront of medical advances, and it appears that those advances have saved yet another high-profile life.

Cunningham is supposed to be released from the hospital sometime before Christmas. He is scheduled to talk to the media Wednesday morning from Banner-UMC.