When I was asked if I knew who Ryan White was, I answered truthfully that only the name sounded familiar. Even though I was not even a year old the day he died, I still wish I had learned about him sooner. Once I started to research him, I became proud that someone not that much younger than me would use his own struggles as a launching point for awareness of HIV/AIDS.
I found out that Ryan was the first widely publicized case of the virus that had nothing to do with sex. He had Hemophilia, which caused him to need weekly blood transfusions. During one of these transfusions, although they are not sure exactly when, he received contaminated blood and became HIV positive, in 1984 he was given 6 months to live.
He survived until 1990.
Another result of the revelation he had HIV was that he was kicked out of his middle school. There was a huge back and forth in the court system about whether or not this was the justified route to take. Some judges were on one side and some were on the other. On the first day Ryan was allowed to attend school, 151 students were absent. It was such a big deal that some of the parents started an alternative school to keep their children away from Ryan.
Once he moved to a different town and school district, he was greeted by friendlier and more aware students and faculty. These people would actually shake his hand. This is a gesture that we all take for granted – a way of greeting people and showing that we appreciate their presence. I can’t imagine having anyone afraid that I might touch them.
After he joined this new school, he started receiving publicity because of all the trials he had gone through. Ryan became a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS, and even spoke at President Reagan’s AIDS Commission about his issues with school and people who just were not aware. Celebrities like Elton John and Michael Jackson befriended him and proved to the world that socializing with people with HIV/AIDS was not a taboo thing to do, nor would it risk any personal safety.
Of all of the hardships and ignorance that I read about, there was one thing that stuck in my mind and stayed there for weeks. When Ryan was in middle school, he worked as a newspaper boy. Once the fact that he had HIV was publicized, many people on his route cancelled their newspaper subscriptions. They were afraid they would catch the virus through newsprint. Newsprint. The only virus that I know of that can spread from newsprint is hatred. The only cure?
Ryan White taught that to the world before he died on April 8th, 1990. He showed people that with enough courage and drive, we can persevere through anything life hands us. We owe it to him to remember him, not just on the day of his death or his birth, but everyday that we wake up in the morning with a hope that the day will bring great things. And on the days that it’s harder to get out of bed, we owe him a thought even more. Because the awareness that he helped to spread, might have given us that extra day, month, year.
The BLC would like to thank Lesley for sharing her thoughts with us candidly, and for her hard work on our BLC programming.