Thursday, October 22, 2015

RYAN WHITE: An Unwittingly Hero Who "Just wanted to be a kid"

Ryan White was an American teenager from Kohomo, Indiana who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the U.S. after being expelled from middle school because of his infection.  As a hemophiliac, Ryan had weekly transfusions.  He became ill with pneumonia in Dec 1984.  During a partial-lung removal procedure, on Dec 17 of the same year, Ryan was diagnosed with AIDS.  He had apparently received a contaminated treatment.  To this day, it is unknown exactly when he was infected. Ryan was given only six months to live.  After the diagnosis, he was too ill to return to school.  By early 1985, Ryan began to feel better.  Doctors said he posed no risk to other students but at this time AIDS was poorly understood.  His mother asked if he could return to school, he was told by school officials that he could not.  This began a battle with the school system, that lasted for eight months. Through the media coverage, Ryan became a national celebrity and spokesman for AIDS research and public education.  Many families believed his presence posed an unacceptable risk.  As a paperboy, many of the people on Ryan's route canceled their subscription.  They believed that HIV could be transmitted through newsprint.  When he was finally readmitted back to school, many families withdrew their children.  Threats of violence and lawsuits persisted.  With very few friends, Ryan's eighth year at school was a very unhappy one.  Treated like an outcast, he had to listen to his classes via telephone, use separate bathrooms and was unable to take a gym class.  After a bullet was fired through their living room, which luckily no one was home, the White's decided to leave Kokomo after school year ended.  The family moved to Cicero, Indiana.  The school he was attending was educated about AIDS.  In 1988, Ryan spoke before the President's Commission.  He told of the discrimination he had faced when he first tried to return to school, but then how education about the disease had made him welcome in the town of Cicero.  On March 29, 1990, Ryan entered the hospital with a respiratory infection.  Although he died before his graduation, Ryan did live five years longer than expected.  Ryan White stated he disliked the public spotlight and emphasized that he would be willing at any moment to trade his fame for freedom from his disease.  He just "wanted to be a kid".

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