INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan White, shunned by a small Indiana city five years ago, was embraced by the nation Tuesday as he fought his latest, and most critical, struggle with the effects of AIDS.
President Bush, Hollywood celebrities, students at his high school in nearby Arcadia and well-wishers in towns big and small conveyed their support and sympathy to White, 18, who is hooked up to a life-support system in a hospital here.
While his fight against the disease may be near an end, the outpouring demonstrated how the young man has triumphed over the ignorance that surrounded AIDS when he was diagnosed only five years ago. It also demonstrated how he taught the nation a lesson in compassion.
"It was through his case and battles that we all became educated" said Charles Vaughan, a lawyer who has represented White and his family. "You can`t even quantify it. He exposed us all to something we all need to know about."
Vaughan represented White as he fought to attend public school in Kokomo, Ind., over the protests of some parents and students who feared the disease might spread through casual contact.
White won that battle in 1986, but, embittered, he and his mother, Jeanne, soon moved to Cicero, Ind. Unlike the panic in Kokomo, he was greeted warmly at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia. After the media attention given to his controversy, children with AIDS in other towns throughout the nation found a more tolerant atmosphere in the schoolhouse.
"He was a pioneer for everyone in that situation" Vaughan said.
In 1988, White mesmerized a presidential committee on AIDS with his tale and in 1989 a television movie re-created his struggle.
"Ryan White helped spread a tremendous amount of compassion and understanding about AIDS" said Rene Durazzo of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "I think he helped reduce the barriers put up as far as hatred and helped break through those barriers."