Ryan Wayne White was an American teenager who fought AIDS-related discrimination and helped educate people in the U. S. He was amongst the first public faces for AIDS/HIV in America and in fact his diagnoses demonstrated for the first time that AIDS was not exclusive to gay, minority, and poor people. His case started to gain national importance when his middle school in Indiana expelled him for contacting the disease and his family filed a lawsuit against the authorities, which they eventually won. At the time when White contracted the virus, not much was known about the disease and people acted out of ignorance, which doubled his struggle as he did not only have to fight with the disease but also had to fight against the social stigmas related to it. His cause gained national importance and many celebrities came forward to help White spread the education on AIDS through his story of discrimination. He became the face for the disease and took part in the fundraising and educational campaigns for AIDS until his death. Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act in his honor, immediately after his death and the act still remains the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
- Ryan White was born on December 6, 1971, in Kokomo, Indiana, to Jeanne Elaine Hale and Hubert Wayne White. He was circumcised but the bleeding would not stop and the doctors diagnosed him with severe Hemophilia A, when he was just 3-days-old. It is a hereditary blood disorder, which causes even minor injuries to result in severe bleeding.For the treatment of his disease it was necessary that he received weekly transfusions of Factor VIII, a blood product created from pooled plasma of non-hemophiliacs. It was the only kind of treatment available at the time.In 1984, he became extremely ill and contracted pneumonia. The treatment required for a partial-lung removal surgery and immediately after the procedure he was diagnosed with HIV, a disease he contracted from the blood transfusion.Since at the time scientist did not know too much about HIV, except for the fact that it was what caused AIDS, much of the pooled factor VIII concentrate supply in hospitals was infected and transferred the virus to the people.White’s T-cell count dropped down to 25 and the doctors predicted that he only had another 6 months to live. But by 1985 he started feeling better and decided to return back to his school, Western Middle School.Later Life & Struggle
- In 1985, White’s parents sent a formal request to Western Middle School in Russiaville, Indiana, for his re-admittance to school but their application was denied by the superintendent James O. Smith.White faced many disparities after the diagnoses of HIV; apart from not being allowed to take classes again, his town people also started treating him differently and restaurants would throw the dishes away after he had dined there.White’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school authorities in 1985 and an Indiana Department of Education officer ruled that the school must follow the Indiana Board of Health guidelines and that White must be allowed to attend school.Although, it was known at the time that the disease spread via blood but nobody was sure if it spread through casual contact as well. The day White returned to school, 151 out of 360 students stayed at home.The Indiana state health commissioner, Dr. Woodrow Myers, who had worked extensively with the AIDS patients in San Francisco, informed the school board that White was no threat to other students but people kept acting out of ignorance.In 1986, the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ published a study that concluded that the non-sexual contact with an AIDS patient did not transfer the disease. Even then families withdrew their children from school and started their own alternative school.Meanwhile, things got really difficult for White and his family. People threatened them and called him names. The editors and publishers of ‘Kokomo Tribune’ who supported White emotionally and financially were called with homophobic names.He attended the school throughout eighth grade, from 1986-87 but White was consistently subjected to hate and discrimination by fellow students as well as the authorities. He was required to eat in disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, etc.The White family moved to Cicero in 1987 and White was enrolled at the Hamilton Heights High School. He was accepted in the school very warmly by school superintendent Bob G. Cranal, Principal Tony Crook and a handful of students.White’s trial had brought him into limelight and he gained national attention. It was during his legal battle that the coverage of AIDS news in the media doubled. He now often came out for public interviews.This led to him eventually becoming a poster boy for the disease and he increasingly took part in the fundraising and educational campaigns for AIDS. He worked towards destigmatizing the disease.Famous celebrities like John Cougar Mellencamp, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Matt Frewer, President Ronald Reagan, etc. now befriended White and helped him in publicizing his cause.He frequently appeared on Phil Donahue’s talk show and once received a kiss and a friendship bracelet from his celebrity crush, Alyssa Milano. Even though White was surrounded with publicity now, he did not quite like it.At the President's Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1988, White spoke about the discrimination and social stigma that he faced because of the ignorance of the people. He pressed on the issue of spreading AIDS education.In 1989, ‘The Ryan White Story’ was aired on ABC. It was a movie based on Ryan’s life and struggle with AIDS and starred Lukas Haas, Judith Light, Sarah Jessica Parker, etc. White also had a cameo in it.During early 1990s, White’s health started to worsen and his last public appearance was 1990’s after-Oscars party that he hosted with former president Ronal Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan.He was admitted at the Riley Hospital for Children in the same year with a respiratory infection. His condition kept worsening and he was eventually placed on a ventilator. He died within a month.Trivia
- This American teenager, along with actor Rock Hudson, was one of the earliest public faces of AIDS.Many charities supporting the cause of AIDS in children were formed after White’s death. The Indiana University Dance Marathon raised approx. $5 million for the Riley Hospital for Children.White's mother founded the national nonprofit Ryan White Foundation. The foundation worked to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS-related issues, with a focus on hemophiliacs like White, and on families caring for relatives with the disease.Elton John created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, after getting inspired by this teenager's life.The Children's Museum of Indianapolis opened an exhibit called ‘The Power of Children: Making a Difference’, which featured White's bedroom along with homage to Anne Frank and Ruby Bridges.Congress passed The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act (often known simply as the Ryan White Care Act), in his honor in 1990.White drove a red Mustang convertible in high school, which was a gift by Michael Jackson.Elton John loaned White’s parents $16,500 to put a down payment on their house in Cicero and in spite of accepting the repayment later, placed the reinvested money on White’s sister’s college education.
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