During the course of his short young life Ryan White changed the face of HIV and AIDS as we knew it, forever. He is, to this day, an inspiration and hero for many people living with HIV/AIDS. This is his story.
Ryan Wayne White was born December 6,1971, to Jeanne White, in Indiana (US). Three days later, doctors confirmed that Ryan had haemophilia, a disorder in which the blood does not clot the way it should. There were treatments available and as Ryan grew up, he would suffer haemorrhages and would receive IV treatments as much as twice a week. On December 17th 1984, Ryan was battling pneumonia and had to have surgery to remove two inches off his left lung. Shortly after surgery the doctor told Ryan’s mother he had contracted the AIDS virus,[sic] through a blood transfusion. Ryan was only given 6 months to live; he was 13 years old.
Ryan didn’t accept that and continued to fight his disease with bravery. Although he tried to continue a normal life, many people were ignorant to the facts about HIV & AIDS in 1985. Ryan’s faced a lot of discrimination; his school would not allow him to attend, and the people in his town were ignorant and fearful; restaurants would throw dishes away after he dined there, and one night, even a bullet was fired into his home.
After many court battles, it was ruled in Ryan’s favour that he should be allowed to go back to school. Unfortunately, Ryan was met again with anger and ignorance; derogatory words were written on his locker, and some children were pulled out of school by their parents. Ryan faced this time with grace and dignity. Not long after Ryan, his mother Jeanne, and his sister Andrea decided to move to a smaller community in Indiana, in the hopes of being accepted by the community.
Ryan enrolled at Hamilton Heights High School, and was welcomed with open arms; greeted by students who had no only taken it upon themselves to learn about AIDS, but to educate their parents, teachers and community. Ryan said in one of his speeches “Hamilton Heights High School is proof that AIDS education in schools works”. Ryan was thrilled, and thrived in his new environment, making friends, learning to drive, attending school functions, and making the honour roll.
In the midst of it all Ryan became an educator for those who didn’t understand his incurable disease, opening the hearts and minds of millions of people, and gaining the attention of the media. He was featured on numerous notable television shows and magazines, even having his story published as a book, and a movie on ABC entitled “The Ryan White Story”. (Read the book reviews here)! He met many famous entertainers, athletes, and public figures, who had befriended him, and they became champions for his cause.
These celebrities included Elton John, Michael Jackson, Paul Donahue, Greg Luoganis, Judith Light and many more, who offered their time and their love and support to Ryan and his family.
Ryan couldn’t believe the notoriety he received, but certainly understood the importance of being in the public eye and the impact it could bring on educating the public on AIDS. On 3rd March 1988, Ryan eloquently spoke before the national commission on AIDS. He spoke about his illness, the discrimination he faced, and always urged the need for education and compassion to all who were living with HIV/AIDS. Although Ryan had contracted his disease through blood products he never tried to separate himself from others who had contracted the disease via sexual contact, or intravenous drug use. He stressed that AIDS was not a gay disease but a human disease and one that must be fought together.
Sadly, Ryan White lost his brave fight with AIDS on 8th April 1990, Palm Sunday. He was surrounded by his loved ones, his mother Jeanne, his sister Andrea, his grandparents and his friend, Elton John. Ryan’s funeral would be among the largest in Indiana history, among the mourners were the many celebrities that befriended him. Elton John sang “Skyline Pigeon”, and helped pay for the service.
Although he is gone, Ryan’s legacy continues to live on in many ways, including The Ryan White CARE Act, US federal programs providing funds and services for over 500,000 people living HIV/AIDS each year, and the annual Ryan White Youth Conference, which brings together young people from all parts of the country to work on HIV/AIDS education in their community.
Ryan’s message of compassion, hope, love and acceptance lives on in his mother Jeanne White-Ginder who continues to speak across the country to many audiences about her remarkable son.
“Let’s fight this disease together. Help me beat the odds and together let’s educate and save the children of tomorrow.”~Ryan White 1971-1990
Each Monday, over the next 8 weeks, we’ll be posting snippets of The Ryan White Story, here’s parts 1 and 2 below.