The family of fallen Sunderland soldier Nathan Cuthbertson have been dealt new heartache after his cousin tragically died aged just 27.
Ryan McKinnie was described as being “more like a brother” to Nathan, with family members saying Ryan had never been the same since Nathan was killed while serving as a paratrooper in Afghanistan eight years ago.
The pair, whose mums are sisters, were born just eight weeks apart, and were inseparable growing up.
Nathan, from Tunstall, was one of three paratroopers killed on June 8, 2008, when a lone insurgent detonated an explosive in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
His death alongside fellow servicemen Privates David Murray, 19, and Daniel Gamble, 22, took the death of British service personnel killed in the country to 100 since conflict began in 2001.
Ryan’s devastated mum Cassandra Conley today told the Echo she feels “cheated” at her oldest son’s death.
The only comfort we have is that he and Nathan are back together now.Cassandra Conley
After he was initially thought to be suffering from depression following Nathan’s death Ryan, of Pennywell, developed rare Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a form of vasculitis which can attack many parts of the body.
Dubbed “Iron Man” by medics at Sunderland Royal Hospital for his fighting spirit, the former Pennywell School had battled serious ill health for the past seven years, at one point suffering a heart attack.
“Nathan died at 19 and we often said that Ryan died the same day because he was never the same,” said Cassandra, 47, of Pennywell.
“We thought he had depression not long after Nathan died but then he started being sick and his eyes were badly bloodshot.
“He started vomiting blood and ended up being in intensive care with 10 hours to live.”
Despite bravely battling through the illness, Ryan was left with a poor quality of life, eventually having to have his spleen and kidney removed, meaning he had to have dialysis treatment five times a week at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
The vasculitis diagnosis also meant that Ryan had to go through gruelling chemotherapy sessions and his lungs would often fill up with fluid.
He became covered in sores and his bladder stopped functioning, meaning he was unable to go to the toilet naturally for the past five years.
Needing a kidney transplant, Ryan’s uncle Shane Conley, 46, was found to be a perfect match and he was due to have tests at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital last week in preparation for the procedure just two days before his death.
Ryan, who had done bricklaying and painting and decorating jobs before he became unwell, had even felt well enough to visit Nathan’s grave in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.
Sadly, he suffered a cardiac arrest at his nana Linda Conley’s home, where he lived, on Monday, June 27, eight years to the day that Nathan’s funeral took place at Sunderland Minster.
“When he got the letters to say he could have the tests and the operation wasn’t far away it really boosted him. He looked 10 years younger and back to his old self” added Cassandra, also mum to Kurt, 24, and Johnnie, 20.
“He told me wanted to visit Nathan’s grave with me and he had his hair cut before we went and even had a photo taken with me.
“That’s why I feel cheated that he has been taken from us just when he’d had the best news in years.
“Ryan wasn’t just my son, he was my best friend. He knew how much Nathan’s death had affected all of us and he did everything to stay strong.
“He bounced back every single time.
“The only comfort we have is that he and Nathan are back together now.”
Nathan’s mum and Cassandra’s sister Carla, 44, also mum to Blaine, 23, and Connan, 22, said: “I found it harder to see Ryan die than losing my own lad.
“I feel like I’ve lost another son.”
Ryan’s funeral is set to take place at Sunderland Crematorium on Friday (JULY 1) at 1.30pm before his wake at Pennywell Comrades Club.
The funeral will have an Only Fools and Horses theme, in honour of Ryan’s favourite TV programme.