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Holiday Miracle on Ice: Tucson Roadrunners Hockey Player Thanks Teams for Saving his Life

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A little over a month since his collapse on ice as he warmed up for a Tucson Roadrunners hockey game, team captain Craig Cunningham, shared his thoughts on the health-care team that saved his life at a news conference at Banner – University Medical Center.

To view the video of the news conference, copy and paste the link below to your web browser: https://youtu.be/C84AI3xjfZM.

The 26-year-old Cunningham said he doesn’t remember collapsing on the ice Nov. 19 or the frantic life-saving efforts that ensued. The last thing he remembers was playing the weekend before.

He thanked Tucson firefighters, the trainers from his hockey team and the doctors and nurses who worked to save his life. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” Cunningham said.

His mother, Heather Cunningham, holding back tears, expressed gratitude to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “Craig would not be here with us today if these people had not gone that extra mile. They made difficult decisions without hesitating and acted effectively under extreme pressure. When they had run out of options, they created new options by pushing the boundaries. These people are nothing short of a gift to mankind and I will remember the gift that they have given me every time I look at my son,” Heather said reading from a prepared statement.

After Cunningham’s collapse on the ice, emergency medical technicians 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).

Because of the urgency of the situation, Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, surgical director for Banner UMC’s Heart Transplant and Mechanical Support Program, rushed to St. Mary’s to initiate ECMO on Cunningham and ambulance him to Banner for continued treatment.

ECMO is a highly specialized procedure for patients who are so critically ill 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.

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

“The multidisciplinary teams here at Banner – UMC Tucson truly make us the providers for the community. Our expertise and multidisciplinary teamwork allow us to provide a safe level of new technology-based care and give us our ability to push the envelope of life-saving care,” said Dr. Khalpey.

Dr. Movahed said, “This is an example of great work and collaboration across community hospitals in Tucson. This should be a model across the city and country. I’d like to thank Banner – UMC Tucson for their commitment to the health of this community.”

Tucson Roadrunners General Manager Doug Soetaert said, “We are in hockey industry it’s about teamwork and commitment and working hard to achieve a goal. I’ve never seen anything like this with regard to the team work involved with the doctors and to hospitals working together to save this young man’s life.”   

“Never give up, never settle, that’s what the team here at Banner University did, they kept going and didn’t give up. When people ask what they can do to help, No. 1, learn CPR and No. 2, give blood,” said 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.

Inspired by Cunningham’s recovery, Banner – UMC Tucson presented him with a hockey stick signed by the medical team. “This is a remarkable story of recovery,” said Dr. Khalpey. “When Craig first started moving and got off the ventilator, I said you are going to have a tough time. He understood and said `bring it on!’ It optimizes who he is and that he’s ready for anything.”

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

About Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and South
Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center South are part of Banner – University Medicine, a premier academic medical network. These institutions are academic medical centers for the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson. Included on the two campuses are Diamond Children's Medical Center and many clinics. The two academic medical centers are part of Phoenix-based Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country. Banner Health is in seven states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming. For more information, visit www.BannerHealth.com/UniversityTucson or www.bannerhealth.com/UniversitySouth

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