Tucson Roadrunners Captain Craig Cunningham Thanks Teams That Saved His Life

Tucson Roadrunners Captain Craig Cunningham, hospitalized at Banner – UMC Tucson since collapsing on the ice last month, will likely be discharged from the hospital before Christmas, thanks to remarkable collaboration and cutting-edge medical technologies.

WHEN:    Wednesday, Dec. 21, 10 a.m.

WHERE:  Kiewit Auditorium, University of Arizona Cancer Center, 1515 N. Campbell Ave.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Craig Cunningham, 26, the Tucson Roadrunners hockey captain who collapsed on the ice moments before the start of a game at the Tucson Arena on Nov. 19, will address reporters at a news briefing on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 10 a.m., in Kiewit Auditorium.

Cunningham will be joined by:

  • His mother, Heather Cunningham.
  • University of Arizona Associate Professor Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, surgical director for the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Support Program, who led Cunningham’s medical team at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.
  • M Reza Movahed, MD, of Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital. Cunningham initially was transported to St. Mary’s before being transferred to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.
  • Tucson Roadrunners General Manager Doug Soetaert.
  • Leigh Neumayer, MD, chair of the UA Department of Surgery, who recently was named interim UA senior vice president for health sciences, effective Jan 1.

Cunningham remains hospitalized at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson but is recovering well and expects to be discharged this week.

A Christmas Miracle on Ice

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.

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You too can be a lifesaver. Learn how to respond if you witness a sudden cardiac arrest: http://heart.arizona.edu/learn-cpr