Jeanne White-Ginder, mother of Ryan White, reflects on son's legacy nearly 25 years after his death

Mom never thought son's memory would touch so many

INDIANAPOLIS - In the early 1980s, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, was new and unknown.

Ryan White, a teen from Kokomo, became one of the early faces of a disease now much more understood, thanks in large part to the struggles he and his mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, faced three decades ago.

Ryan contracted AIDS through treatment for hemophilia. He was expelled from school. His fight to live a normal life and return to the classroom was pushed into the national spotlight.

After Ryan's death in 1990, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis became the home to his story. An exhibit of Ryan's bedroom belongings remains on display on the museum's third floor. She spoke with RTV6 in an interview for "Indianapolis This Week."

"I would never have thought that Ryan's legacy would still be ongoing today," White-Ginder said. "Ryan put a face to this disease to where people could listen. People felt like they knew a person who had AIDS because of Ryan. I think he opened the eyes to a lot of people to make this a disease, as Ryan always said, and not a dirty word."

White-Ginder views prevention as the biggest challenge nearly 25 years after Ryan's death.

"We have done a very poor job preventing the disease from spreading. As far as educational efforts, I think that because of religious and moral issues that have always surrounded the disease, it's been hard to get family members to talk about AIDS," White-Ginder said. "It's been hard to get schools to talk about it, and definitely the churches. People have not responded to the educational because it's sexual."

Aside from AIDS awareness advocacy, White-Ginder is also focused on bullying.

"I think it was very important to Ryan. He saw so much discrimination through this disease, from people saying, 'You have to be gay to get this disease,' or, 'You have to be an IV drug user. You had to do something bad or wrong or you wouldn't have gotten this disease,'" White-Ginder said. "To see the comments people made, see the kids how they bully kids nowadays because of how they look or what they have in them -- that was really hard for Ryan to see, for me to see people picking on your kid."

As visitors walk through the exhibit, White-Ginder said she hopes they take away a feeling of knowing Ryan.

"I want people to say, 'He was just like me. I like those same things,'" she said. "He was just a normal kid, a normal kid that wanted to go to school."

After his diagnoses, Ryan was only expected to live three to six months.

"In five and a half years, if we hadn't fought to go back to school, what a waste of a child's life. His life wasn't wasted. He got to go back to school," White-Ginder said.

Ryan's mom continues to work with singer Elton John on AIDS awareness programs and said she is grateful for the support from Michael Jackson before and after the Ryan's death.

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