Four months after the collapse that ended his hockey career, nearly took his life and made him a walking testament to medical science, Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham made his way back to the ice.
Cunningham delivered the ceremonial opening puck drop before the Roadrunners’ 5-2 loss to the San Jose Barracuda at Tucson Arena.
It was Craig Cunningham Night, a celebration of how far he’s come and an appreciation for the doctors and family members that are still helping him.
Cunningham suffered a major cardiac event in the minutes before the Roadrunners’ Nov. 19 home game against the Manitoba Moose. The 26-year-old battled for his life for nine hours as doctors worked to decompress his heart and maintain steady blood flow.
“I feel good,” Cunningham said, cracking a smile at a pregame press conference. “It’s a nice night, not only for me but for everyone that was involved in my case.”
George Haloftis, one of the doctors who helped save Cunningham’s life, said he’s never seen a patient show as much fight in the face of insurmountable odds.
“Other patients that go through this as long as he was in cardiac arrest, and reoccurring cardiac arrest, they don’t survive,” he said.
Cunningham’s road to recovery is ongoing.
On Christmas Eve, doctors amputated part of Cunningham’s left leg for fear that infection would interfere with his healing. Cunningham has spent the past few months learning to complete everyday tasks again. By all accounts, he’s well ahead of schedule.
That was yet another a reason to celebrate.
“Physicians, paramedics, emergency medical services, we do these things every day, but we don’t have these outcomes every day,” Haloftis said. “That’s the real story: I saw him fighting for his life in that hospital for nine hours, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his family.”
The doctor even hinted at the possibility that Cunningham could one day skate using a prosthesis.
For now, Cunningham is working out in an attempt to regain some of the muscle mass he lost while in the hospital. Hockey, not surprisingly, has been Cunningham’s greatest comfort during his rehabilitation.
“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”
Cunningham likely won’t go far. The NHL’s Arizona Coyotes have already offered him a job within the organization. Cunningham has said he wants to stay as involved with hockey as possible.
“He’s going to go on and do great things that transcend the sport of hockey,” Haloftis said. “I can guarantee you that.”