Source: WTHR – By Matt McCutcheon | All Things Michael
April 8, 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Ryan White. The Indiana teenager died of AIDS just days before his high school graduation.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 25 years because he lived five and a half years with AIDS which was a long time at that time, and those five and a half years, he got a lot of life out of them,” his mother, Jeanne White-Ginder said.
The Russiaville teenager made national headlines just trying to go to school when the disease was so scary and unknown.
“Everybody thought the number one priority in my life was Ryan going to school; that was not my number priority. My top priority was keeping Ryan alive as long as I could; number two was keeping my daughter Andrea involved in our family because it was so chaotic. Number three was my job at GM which I needed so badly and down the list was the fight to go to school, but it gave Ryan hope. It gave him a purpose,” she explained.
Jeanne White-Ginder is in Indianapolis for a book launch about her son. The book “The Quiet Hero: A Life of Ryan White,” was written by Nelson Price, a newspaper reporter who followed the family’s story. The Indiana Historical Society published the book, which chronicles the family’s struggles.
“Your hometown was against you, but you had the world that was really pulling for you,” she said.
When asked if there was ever a time when she said, ‘why me, why did this have to happen to me and to our family,’ Jeanne White-Ginder said, “Ryan never said it, but I said it a lot because I felt with him being born with hemophilia, that was kind of a curse in itself.”
In 1985 at the age of 13, Ryan White received a tainted blood treatment, infecting him with AIDS.
“It was just like how could this happen. There’s no way this should have happened to a young kid that’s already been through so much,” she said.
His Russiaville school fought to keep him out.
Knowledge about the disease then was low, while fear was high.
“I wanted to go to school and be like everyone else because it’s no fun sitting at home,” Ryan White said in a WTHR file interview.
His smiles hid the struggles of fighting a disease and having to move to a new community for acceptance.
Ryan appeared on TV shows, was in a movie, and spoke in front of politicians.
“I said Ryan how do you do it? How do you keep from getting so nervous? He said mom, let me give you some advice, he said just don’t try to use those big fancy words and you’ll be okay,” Jeanne White-Ginder laughed.
She continues his legacy for education and a cure.
The family that many had turned their back on, suddenly had friends in celebrities from around the world.
“We never kind of got caught up in it, but at the same time, it’s unbelievable,” she said.
The King of Pop flew to the White’s rural Indiana home with Donald Trump when Ryan died. She answered the door and immediately threw her arms around Michael Jackson and exclaimed, “He loved to see you.”
Elton John also visited the family that day. He continues to be a constant in the family’s life today.
The night he sang “Candle in the Wind” at Farm Aid in Indianapolis in 1990, Ryan took a turn for the worse.
“When he left the hospital, Ryan started getting worse and I called him and he said as soon as he’s done, he’s coming back. So “Candle in the Wind” is a reminder that I knew that’s when things were getting bad,” Jeanne White-Ginder said.
Ryan White’s packed funeral brought First Lady Barbara Bush and dozens of dignitaries and celebrities. After they left and friends and family returned to work, Jeanne had to deal with her son’s loss.
“That’s when it’s hard. I had trouble with my daughter. My daughter never wanted to come home because when she came home, her brother wasn’t there,” she said.
In the 25 years since, Andrea White graduated from Indiana University and is now a history teacher and coach.
Jeanne has remarried and moved to Florida.
“I hated to leave Ryan’s grave, I think that was the worst part because I enjoyed being so close to him,” White-Ginder said.
But he’s with her every day on the pages of dozens of scrapbooks.
“I think the emptiness from losing a child is forever. It’s a daily thing,” she said.
There’s a chapter about Greg Louganis.
“He was my inspiration to really fight through and take one dive at a time,” Louganis said.
The Olympic diver felt compelled to meet the Indiana teenager. Louganis was struggling with coming out as a gay man living with HIV.
“One thing Ryan taught me is that it’s important to speak up and speak out and to educate,” he said.
That education continues with the new book, and a special launch event Wednesday night at the Indiana Historical Society. White-Ginder, Louganis, and Price will take part in a special panel discussion about the book and anniversary at 6:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.
It’s the latest chapter that’s part of the rich history of a boy who’s fight to fit in made him a celebrity and humanized AIDS.
“I wanted to carry on his message to eliminate this disease called AIDS and to give people hope and to conquer bullying like kids making fun of you, there are so many issues that Ryan’s story dwells on that I think so many people could learn so many issues from Ryan’s story. It puts a smile on my face to think that Ryan did so much in the eyes of the AIDS epidemic,” White-Ginder said.
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