Craig Cunningham’s long and improbable recovery from cardiac arrest has been slowed in recent weeks. The Tucson Roadrunners captain had part of his left leg amputated on Christmas Eve amid fears of infection.
Cunningham had been at an increased risk of infection in his legs since his long hospitalization began in November. Dr. Zain Khalpey, who performed two emergency procedures on Cunningham, told the Star last month that amputation was a possibility.
Cunningham told ESPN.com on Monday that he expects to function normally once he’s fitted with a prosthesis. The captain remains thankful, even if the amputation means his slim chances of playing again have been dashed.
“Every time I think about how I can’t play anymore, I just think back to (the fact that) I’m lucky I’m not 10 feet under,” Cunningham told the website. “If I have to sacrifice playing hockey to be alive — and it’s a tough pill to swallow for sure, it’s been my whole life since I was 4 years old — it’s time for me to move on.”
Cunningham, 26, collapsed on the Tucson Arena ice before a Nov. 19 game against the Manitoba Moose. Cunningham required more than 85 minutes of relentless CPR after going into cardiac arrest on the ice. He was taken by ambulance to nearby Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital, where innovative emergency medical procedures were completed by a team comprised of both St. Mary’s and Banner–University Medical Center doctors.
Cunningham was preparing to be discharged late last month before the leg infection caused more complications. Cunningham’s next stop will be a rehabilitation center, where he’ll build strength. Cunningham was scheduled to spend Christmas at a Tucson-area rehab facility, but the infection and amputation have forced a delay.
Cunningham and his family remain focused on his recovery, a Banner-UMC spokesperson said Thursday.
The hospital issued a brief statement to the Star that read: “At the request of Mr. Cunningham, Banner–University Medical Center Tucson will not be providing any further information on his condition. We are humbled by Mr. Cunningham’s expressions of gratitude for the care he received here and our heartfelt thoughts are with him and his family as he moves forward in his recovery.”
Cunningham’s teammates continue to encourage him from the road. Defenseman Dakota Mermis told the Star on Thursday that Cunningham remains the team’s leader. The captain and his teammates have been in near-constant contact since his collapse.
“He’s definitely made a strong effort, and he can’t physically be here, but he’s always staying involved,” Mermis said from the team bus as it traveled to Stockton, California, where the team will play Friday night. “Guys are always going to see him. He was a captain for a reason, a unanimous captain for a reason. No one else is wearing that C.”
Cunningham’s recovery has helped the Roadrunners on the ice, too, even while providing a dose of perspective.
“I’d say we’ve gone to the next stage with this, but I don’t know if the trauma ever leaves your mind,” Mermis said. “It makes you know how precious your life is. But certainly with his recovery, it’s definitely helped our energy and our mood in the rink.”