Ryan White

Ryan White is surrounded by friends and reporters after a judge threw out a temporary injunction barring him from attending classes at Western Middle School, April 10, 1986.

Many of us are taught that every life has a purpose. We’re told God never gives us more than we can handle as we endeavor to realize our full potential.

If that’s true, Ryan White’s purpose was to lead us all to a better understanding of AIDS — one that required an unfathomably strong spirit and unwavering bravery.

Ryan suffered from hemophilia, an inherited deficiency in the clotting of blood. At 13, that condition suddenly became less of a concern.

It was 1984, and Ryan and his family lived on Kokomo’s South Webster Street. The Whites filed suit against one of the manufacturers of the blood products Ryan received three times each week for his hemophilia. Soon, the city and, later, the world learned the middle-schooler had AIDS.

At that time, little was known about the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it only could be transmitted through sex or intravenous drug use. But others in authority, particularly President Reagan, told Americans not enough was known about AIDS for such a determination.

The only certainties: The virus was a death sentence that disproportionately plagued gay men. Then came Ryan.

AIDS wasn’t just a disease that affected homosexuals, we learned. Because of tainted blood products, young hemophiliacs all over the country — as many as 8,550, estimates the National Hemophilia Foundation — contracted AIDS.

If a 13-year-old boy could get it, anyone could get it. Many people were frightened.

Ryan was made a pariah by many in his hometown. His school barred him from attending class. He and his family, in effect, were run out of Kokomo.

The Whites found a new home in Cicero. Ryan made new friends in a new school. Six years later, on April 8, 1990, he died — but not before he changed the world.

Because of his very public struggle with hemophilia and AIDS, the nation’s blood supply was made safe, AIDS sufferers finally were humanized and an assistance program was established in Ryan’s name.

Despite the pain and prejudice he endured, he realized his full potential and left a lasting legacy — all in just 18 years of life.

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