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Ryan White and His Legacy

Barred from school, Ryan White used the media attention his legal battles attracted to tackle the prejudice informing the public perception of HIV/AIDS.

Soon after he was born in Kokomo in 1971, Ryan White was diagnosed with Hemophilia A. Dependent on transfusions of blood-clotting factor to live a normal life, at the age of 13 White became ill with pneumonia after a contaminated transfusion. During a partial-lung removal, White was diagnosed with AIDS, and given six months to live.

Instead, White recovered from pneumonia, and hoped to return to school. With limited understanding of the disease and its transmission, many parents and faculty, and eventually the school board, attempted to bar White’s re-enrollment. Throughout the 1985-86 school year, White’s family fought continuous legal battles with the Western School Corporation.

After persistent threats of violence and lawsuits, in 1987 the Whites moved to Cicero, Indiana where Ryan was welcomed by the school system.

Attracting national media attention, Ryan White took the opportunity to address the prejudice that characterized the public perception of HIV/AIDS, stemming from its association with the gay community.

White not only befriended celebrities with Hoosier ties–from Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp and Bobby Knight—but Elton John, and President Ronald Reagan, who had previously been reticent on the subject of AIDS.

Ryan White passed away April 8, 1990 at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. His legacy is evident in several national charities bearing his name, not to mention the US Ryan White Care Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS.

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