Ryan White should have turned 40 today. But he died at age 18, after a too-short and tumultuous life in which he battled HIV and the prejudice that surrounded it – as well as the somewhat unwelcome place in the spotlight his condition thrust upon him.
When White was infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment in 1984, AIDS was still a new disease, not widely understood and carrying great stigma. He found himself shunned by classmates and their parents – when he was finally allowed to return to school, that is. After a prolonged absence due to his illness, White was denied re-admission to school, forcing his family into a months-long legal battle with the school board. As he discussed his story with interviewers and local coverage yielded to national attention, White became a poster boy for AIDS awareness. Celebrities rallied to his cause and he became friends with luminaries from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Michael Jackson to Elton John.
When Ryan White died in 1990, those celebrities continued to support his family, turning out for the funeral – Michael Jackson was there, as well as Phil Donahue, Barbara Bush, and 1500 others. Elton John performed a special tribute to the boy who touched his heart.
The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida (12/06/11)
I felt the need to go off the normal topic just a bit today.
Well, maybe not. Perhaps Ryan White experienced the ultimate in bullying.