Ryan Cunningham, 26, Towson U. student

July 23, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Ryan M. Cunningham, a Towson University student who battled years of depression while studying for a bachelor's degree in biology, died of undetermined causes July 16. The Towson resident was 26.

Mr. Cunningham was found dead early last Friday morning on the sidewalk near his Willow Avenue apartment. His death is under investigation by the state medical examiner's office, family members said.

Mr. Cunningham was born in Silver Spring and raised in Ellicott City. He completed high school in three years and graduated from Mount Hebron High School in 1995 at the end of his junior year.

"During his junior year in high school, he took the SATs and scored a 1580, a nearly perfect score," said his mother, Elena S. Cunningham of Palm Coast, Fla.

He entered Towson University in 1997 after being awarded the university's Towson Scholar scholarship and made the dean's list his freshman and sophomore years. He planned to become a doctor one day.

"Tragically in 2000, his junior year, Ryan was stricken with a debilitating mental health disease which prevented him from enjoying a normal life. He tried to push himself to try and finish college against unsurpassable odds," his mother said. "His doctors and professors were inspired by his will to finish college."

It wasn't until 2002 that doctors finally diagnosed Mr. Cunningham as suffering from schizoaffective disorder, which is a mixture of unipolar depression and manic-depressive illness.

"His struggles with depression were quite difficult. He once said that `out of a normal month, I feel OK about five of those days.' With such a gifted mind, it was truly a tragedy that he was unable to fulfill his dream of being a molecular biologist or physician," Mrs. Cunningham said.

Mrs. Cunningham said that Towson University planned to award her son his bachelor's degree posthumously.

Mr. Cunningham enjoyed reading and his subject matter in addition to medical books included books on military strategy, history and general nonfiction.

Services were held Wednesday in Towson.

In addition to his mother, Mr. Cunningham is survived by his father, Michael C. Cunningham; a brother, Brett H. Cunningham of Salt Lake City; and his longtime girlfriend with whom he lived, Joy Tutin.

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