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Craig Cunningham feels ‘lucky to be alive,’ won’t play again after cardiac arrest

Craig Cunningham’s playing days are over, but that he escaped the cardiac arrest he suffered ahead of a mid-November AHL game is nothing short of a miracle.

Craig Cunningham is on his road to recovery and the next step will see the 26-year-old make his way to a rehabilitation center to regain his strength. And while playing hockey again almost certainly isn’t in the cards for Cunningham, the Tucson Roadrunners captain is just happy to be alive.

In a report from TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tuesday evening, it was revealed that Cunningham suffered “acute cardiac arrest” on Nov. 19, the night he collapsed ahead of an AHL game between the Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose, and that the damage his body sustained due to the cardiac arrest has left questions about what movement and function he’ll regain in his left foot and leg.

However, given what has been reported by both McKenzie and Tucson.com’s Jon Gold, the fact that Cunningham is alive is nothing short of a miracle. According to McKenzie, Cunningham’s collapse was caused when his heart stopped pumping blood due to “ventricular fibrillation” — doctors still don’t know why — and it took literal life-saving measures in order to ensure Cunningham’s health. 

Gold reported that the process that eventually saved Cunningham’s life involved the use of an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO, to decompress his heart when it became enlarged. It was a procedure was one that had only been undertaken three times ever, with all three procedures coming in the two weeks leading up to Cunningham’s collapse. It helped, too, that all three had been performed by Dr. Zain Khalpey, the cardiothoracic surgeon who was working on Cunningham.

“The long-term prognosis is that his heart function is working really well,” Khalpey told Gold.

Chances are, though, he’ll never be able to suit up again, regardless of how well his heart is functioning. But Cunningham told McKenzie that he feels “lucky to be alive,” and he seems determined to find another way into the NHL.

"Hockey is the only thing I've ever known,” Cunningham told McKenzie. “Since I was four years old, the only thing I've ever wanted to be was a hockey player. Now I have to move on, focus on something else.”

If this is the end of Cunningham's playing days -- and that's incredibly likely -- he will have finished his career 63 games, three goals and eight points in the NHL, another 101 goals, 203 points and 319 games in the AHL and captaincies with the Roadrunners, Springfield Falcons, Providence Bruins and WHL's Vancouver Giants. With a resume like that, he shouldn't have any problem carving out a future in the game.

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