Ryan White Biography

Ryan Wayne White was an American teenager who fought AIDS-related discrimination and helped educate people in the U. S. He was amongst the first faces for AIDS/HIV in America. In fact, his diagnosis demonstrated for the first time that AIDS was not exclusive to gay, minority, and poor people. His case started to gain national importance when his middle school in Indiana expelled him for contracting the disease. Subsequently, his family filed a lawsuit against the school authorities, which they eventually won. At the time when Ryan White contracted the virus, not much was known about the disease and people acted out of ignorance, which doubled his struggle as he not only had to fight the disease but also against the social stigmas related to it. His cause gained national importance and many celebrities came forward to help White spread the information on AIDS through his story of discrimination. He became the face for AIDS/HIV and took part in the fundraising and educational campaigns for AIDS until his death. Congress passed the ‘Ryan White Care Act’ in his honor, immediately after his death and the act still remains the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ryan Wayne White

Died At Age: 18

Family :

father: Hubert Wayne White

mother: Jeanne Elaine Hale

siblings: Andrea White

Born Country: United States

Height: 5’0" (152 cm), 5’0" Males

Died on: April 8, 1990

place of death: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

U.S. State: Indiana

More Facts

education: Indiana University Bloomington, Hamilton Heights High School, Western High School

Childhood & Early Life

Ryan White was born on December 6, 1971, in Kokomo, Indiana, USA, to Jeanne Elaine Hale and Hubert Wayne White. He was circumcised, but the bleeding would not stop and the doctors diagnosed him with severe hemophilia A when he was just three-days-old. Hemophilia A is a hereditary blood disorder, which causes even minor injuries to result in severe bleeding.

As part of the treatment, it was necessary that he received weekly transfusions of Factor VIII, a blood product created from pooled plasma of non-hemophiliacs. This treatment was very common at that time.

In 1984, he became extremely ill and contracted pneumonia. The treatment required a partial-lung removal surgery. Immediately after the procedure, he was diagnosed with HIV, which he had contracted from blood transfusion.

Since scientists back then did not know too much about HIV, much of the pooled Factor VIII concentrate supply in the hospitals was infected and the same was used to treat people.

Ryan White’s T-cell count dropped to 25 and the doctors predicted that he only had six months to live. However, he started feeling better and by 1985, had decided to return to his school, ‘Western Middle School.’

Later Life & Struggle

In 1985, White’s parents sent a formal request to ‘Western Middle School’ in Russiaville, Indiana, for his re-admittance but their application was denied by Superintendent James O. Smith.

White faced discrimination after he was diagnosed with HIV. Apart from not being allowed to attend classes again, people in his town also started treating him differently. Restaurants would throw the dishes away after he had dined there.

White’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school authorities in 1985. An ‘Indiana Department of Education’ officer ruled that the school must follow the ‘Indiana Board of Health’ guidelines and allow White to attend school.

Although it was known at the time that the disease spread via blood, nobody was sure if it spread through casual contact as well. The day White returned to school, 151 out of 360 students stayed at home.

The Indiana state health commissioner Dr. Woodrow Myers, who had worked extensively with AIDS patients in San Francisco, informed the school board that White was no threat to other students. However, people kept acting out of ignorance.

In 1986, the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ published a study stating that non-sexual contact with an AIDS patient would not transfer the disease. Despite the statement, many families withdrew their children from school and started looking for other options to educate their children.

Meanwhile, things got really difficult for White and his family. People threatened them and called him names. The editors and publishers of ‘Kokomo Tribune,’ who supported White emotionally and financially, were verbally abused as well.

He attended the school throughout eighth grade from 1986 to 1987. During his time at school, he was consistently subjected to hate and discrimination by fellow students as well as the authorities. He was required to eat in disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, etc.

The White family moved to Cicero in 1987 and he was enrolled at the ‘Hamilton Heights High School.’ He received a warm welcome by school Superintendent Bob G. Carnal, Principal Tony Crook, and a handful of students.

White’s trial had brought him into limelight and he gained national attention. It was during his legal battle that the coverage of AIDS news in the media increased. By now, he was giving public interviews.

Eventually, he became a poster boy for the disease in the US. He took part in fundraising and educational campaigns for AIDS. He also worked towards destigmatizing the disease.

Famous celebrities like John Cougar Mellencamp, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Matt Frewer, and President Ronald Reagan befriended White and helped him publicize his cause.

He frequently appeared on Phil Donahue’s talk show and even received a kiss and a friendship bracelet from his celebrity crush Alyssa Milano. Even though White was famous by now, he did not quite like it.

At the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1988, White spoke about the discrimination and social stigma that he faced because of the ignorance of the people. He spoke about why educating people about AIDS is important.

In 1989, ‘The Ryan White Story’ was released on ABC. It was a movie based on Ryan’s life and struggle with AIDS. It starred actors like Lukas Haas, Judith Light, Sarah Jessica Parker, etc. White also had a cameo in it.

During the early-1990s, White’s health started to deteriorate. His last public appearance was at the 1990’s after-Oscars party, which he hosted with former president Ronald Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan.

He was admitted at the ‘Riley Hospital for Children’ with a respiratory infection in 1990. His condition kept worsening and he was eventually placed on a ventilator. He died within a month.


Along with actor Rock Hudson, this American teenager was one of the earliest faces for AIDS.

Many charities supporting the cause of AIDS in children were formed after White’s death. ‘The Indiana University Dance Marathon’ raised approximately $28 million from 1991 to 2016 for the ‘Riley Hospital for Children.’

White’s mother founded the national nonprofit ‘Ryan White Foundation.’ The foundation works towards increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS-related issues. It focuses on hemophiliacs and families caring for relatives with the disease.

Elton John created the ‘Elton John AIDS Foundation,’ after getting inspired by this teenager’s life.

‘The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ opened an exhibit called ‘The Power of Children: Making a Difference,’ which featured White’s bedroom along with homage to Anne Frank and Ruby Bridges.

Congress passed ‘The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act’ (often known simply as the Ryan White Care Act) in his honor in 1990.

White drove a red Mustang convertible in high school, which was a gift by Michael Jackson.

Elton John loaned White’s parents $16,500. Though he accepted the repayment later, he placed the money on White’s sister’s college education.