One week before Christmas in 1984 Jeanne White was told that her son Ryan, a hemophiliac, had contracted AIDS from a tainted blood product. Although the doctors gave him only 6 months to live, Ryan's outlook was positive and he was determined to live a relatively normal live. He wanted to stay in school, and Jeanne was determined to ensure that he could do so.
What seemed like a small wish turned into a nightmare when the White's hometown of Kokomo, Indiana, frightened and uneducated on the realities of AIDS, abused the family and refused to allow Ryan back to school. Jeanne turned to the court system, and the media grabbed onto the story. Ryan became a reluctant international celebrity and Jeanne became an educator to the masses.
Jeanne and Ryan won their initial battle. The courts forced the town to allow Ryan to attend school. However, the town's antagonism remained unmerciful. The abuse came to a peak when a bullet was shot through the White's picture window. For the first time in her entire life in Kokomo, it ceased to feel like home. An illness was taking her some from her, and the people she had known her all her life were violently threatening her family. She immediately began looking for a new home.
Their ticket out of Kokomo was the advance for The Ryan White Story, a made-for-TV movie based on Ryan's struggles. The Whites took that money and moved to Cicero, Indiana, where, to their relief, they were wholeheartedly welcomed.
Ryan went to school, became an honor roll student, earned a driver's license. He traveled to visit Elton John and Michael Jackson (who greatly admired Ryan's courage and with whom he had become good friends), but his health was rapidly deteriorating. On Saturday, April 2, 1990, five and a half years after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Ryan White died. Jeanne and Elton John were by his side.
As hard as it was to lose Ryan, Jeanne remains deeply involved with AIDS education and the battle for increased research. She is on the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, has testified before a Congressional Committee and has worked with the publisher on her son's autobiography.
Jeanne plans to continue working with AIDS patients and their families. She says "I don't care whether they're gay, Hispanic, IV drug users or whatever. I want to keep educating people about AIDS. I know it's going to be rough, watching others die. But this is something I want to do...education is the only thing that is going to save people and we've got to get it to them. Because of Ryan, I feel it is my responsibility."
NOTE: Bio is as it appeared in the Forum playbill for "Straight Talk and Honest Answers About AIDS" on February 6, 1993.
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