"With myself never winning a championship there's always that doubt that something could go wrong," said Carolina Thunderbirds player Michael Bunn last April after the Commissioner's Cup. "Everything just fell into place this year."
Bunn, one of Raleigh's own, was the 2019 Commissioner's Cup MVP for the Winston-Salem based Thunderbirds and a well-known name in the Twin Cities.
"He is first to come out of that locker room, first to sign autographs," said his girlfriend, Allison Gregg. "They think of hockey, everything he does for the community."
Right now, that community is returning the favor, praying for and supporting Bunn as he takes on the fight of his life.
"It's kept us going," said his mother, Lynn Bunn. "At a time when you feel like your life has turned upside down completely, you feel the virtual love and virtual hugs from all over the place; it's just kept us going."
Bunn struggled with addiction in the past but has been in recovery attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings daily and has been playing with the Thunderbirds for the past three seasons. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, hockey, NA meetings and what was a normal routine for Bunn has been taken away.
"The team was, it's still number one going into playoffs," Lynn Bunn said. "They could have taken the Cup again this year. He was sort of looking forward to playoffs and looking forward to taking the Cup again this year. All of that was just canceled all of a sudden. I'm not sure he knew exactly what to do with himself."
"He went online and said I need a job. One of the sponsors of the team, who is a really good guy, Michael went to work there," said his father, David Bunn. "He loved those people the same way he loved his hockey team. He would go to work on days he was off just to hang out with the people."
On April 20, Bunn never showed up to his job at Musten and Crutchfield. Police found him in a parking lot in his running car unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning and took him to the hospital where he is suffering a brain injury. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, his parents haven't been able to visit him.
"I hope I get my son back completely and fully," Lynn Bunn said. "I don't know that I will. That is the hardest part, but the second hardest part is not being able to be with him, touch him, hug him and love him and have him feel my arms around him. He's an adult but he's still my little boy."
"It's not fun," said David Bunn. "I can sit here and talk rationally for a minute and then be in tears in another, but the truth is our faith has been very important in seeing us through this situation."
Bunn's family isn't going through this alone. His mom started a CaringBridge page posting daily updates. Almost 40,000 people have visited it, and the Thunderbirds are making shirts and stickers to sell with the proceeds going to the family to help with the cost of medical bills.
"Opposing teams, opposing coaches we've had just people from all over the country that have never even met him, some of them," said Lynn Bunn. "It's been overwhelming, and it's been heartwarming."
"I know every sport feels this way but there's something special about hockey people," David Bunn said. "I don't know why, but I will tell you this, that is a solid core of people, from across the country we've met."
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Two weeks ago, doctors told Bunn's parents that he may never wake up, but just as he fought for the Thunderbirds he continues to fight; now conscious and responding to commands from his mom through FaceTime.
"He wasn't doing none of that, but he heard his mom's voice," David Bunn said. "We said pick up a hockey puck, he tried to move his right hand to pick it up. I have no doubt in my mind that the spiritual effect of this has been effective. If inner drive is enough to make this work, he'll come back to us because that's just who he is. He does not know how to quit."
His mother remains hopeful and determined.
"I feel very strongly that he's fighting, and I keep telling him to fight," Lynn Bunn said. "I'm just like, Michael, this is the fight of your life you're going to have to fight harder than you ever have. I do believe in a God that performs miracles and I do believe we're going to see a miracle."
The family hopes the next step will be to get Bunn into a facility in Atlanta that specializes in brain injuries.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).