Medical Figure, American Folk Figure. He gained national attention for his fight with AIDS, helping to educate the public on its causes, its treatment and the risks associated with the disease. During the period from 1986 to 1989, he became the national poster boy about the problems of the disease and helped remove the public stigma associated with it. Born in Kokomo, Indiana, Ryan was the son of Hubert Wayne and Elaine Hale White. When only six days old, he was diagnosed with hemophilia, a hereditary blood disorder in which blood has trouble clotting, and even minor injuries can lead to severe bleeding, with the risk of bleeding to death. For treatment, he received transfusions of a blood product made from blended plasma of non-hemophiliacs, a common treatment for the disorder. In December 1984, at the age of 13, he became extremely ill with pneumonia, and was soon diagnosed as having Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). At the time, very little was known about AIDS, and most people feared any contact with any of its victims, fearing contamination. At that time, AIDS was 100 percent fatal in all cases, and almost nothing was known about how it was transmitted to its victims; many people believed that they could catch AIDS just from being in the same room with a sick person. White had received a transfusion that contained contaminated blood; the doctors had not tested the blended plasma for the disease markers, as so little was known about AIDS and how it was transmitted, and no reliable test then existed. During this period, nearly 90 percent of those hemophiliacs treated with blood clotting factors became infected with AIDS and subsequently died soon afterwards. Initially expected to live only six months, Ryan asked to be allowed to go to school, but fear and pressure from students and their parents caused school officials to refuse him admittance. Over half of the parents and their teachers had signed a petition requesting the local school board to ban Ryan from attending school, fearing that the AIDS virus could possibly put them all at risk. In June 1985, Ryan and his parents submitted a formal request to return to school in the fall, which school superintendent James O. Smith rejected. This prompted a lawsuit, during which the Indiana Department of Education voted to admit Ryan to school, but the local school board, which had obtained a restraining order that barred Ryan from attending school until the court decided the lawsuit, blocked the case. In the meantime, medical research was learning more about the AIDS virus almost daily and while transmission was nearly non-existent between a victim and a healthy person, many people remained skeptical of the research findings, and believed that he should be banned from public contact (going to public school) as an unacceptable and unnecessary risk. In July 1986, the Indiana Circuit Court ruled that Ryan was no threat to other children and was allowed to go to school. While spending the 1987-1988 school year at Western Middle School, Ryan received numerous death threats and harassment, including requirements to eat lunch alone, use a separate bathroom, and verbal abuse from fellow students. The next year, the family moved to Cicero, Indiana, where Ryan was welcomed into Hamilton Heights High School, by teachers and students who had been educated about AIDS and were not afraid of it or its victims. In 1989, the made for television movie, "The Ryan White Story" aired on ABC television, educating more than 15 million viewers on the real risks associated with the disease, helping to reduce the hysteria that had caused Ryan and his family so much trouble. As the AIDS disease progressed, Ryan became increasingly ill, and he died of AIDS complications just two months before he was to graduate from Hamilton Heights High School. Many celebrities attended his funeral, including Mrs. Barbara Bush (wife of President George H. W. Bush), and President Ronald Reagan wrote a tribute to Ryan. White's highly visible public lawsuit and determination to go to high school allowed the media to focus on the disease and to change public perception about it. The resulting publicity also resulted in more serious efforts on the part of the federal government to combat the disease. In August 1990, Congress passed "The Ryan White Act" to provide federal funds to research and help those afflicted with AIDS.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
Hubert Wayne White