Ryan White said: "I never wanted to be famous. It's embarrassing to be famous for being sick, especially with a disease like AIDS." Photo provided
Ryan White said: "I never wanted to be famous. It's embarrassing to be famous for being sick, especially with a disease like AIDS." Photo provided
Ryan White became famous when in 1985, the eyes of the world turned to Indiana, when the 13-year-old Kokomo student with AIDS wanted to go to school with his fellow classmates at Western Middle School in Russiaville.

But, his wish to return to school was met with panic by school officials and parents, as Ryan White had been earlier diagnosed with AIDS after receiving contaminated blood-based products used to treat his hemophilia.

But then, the White family, when Ryan White was a freshman, moved to Cicero, to attend Hamilton Heights High School, in 1987 to get away from the controversy in Howard County.

"Ryan hardened my commitment for allowing him to experience school without limitation upon my first meeting with him and his mother, Jeanne," said State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero), who at the time was principal of Hamilton Heights High School.

Cook was unable to attend last week's book launch at the Indiana History Center, for Ryan White's new IHS Press book, "The Quiet Hero: A Life of Ryan White," because Cook was sick with pneumonia.

But Cook still wanted to share his memories of Ryan White.

He recalled how he asked why the teen wanted to come to school despite being so sick at times and fighting for his life was a priority. "Ryan calmly stated how he had faced the reality that he was going to die shortly, and that the most important thing to him was to experience the whole high-school experience before he passed," Cook said.

"Ryan had been denied the things most kids take for granted: attending dancing, going to your first ball game and sitting in the cheer block, sitting in the cafeteria with friends, chattering with buddies in the hall and in class, going to prom, and not having to use separate facilities at school."

Cook recalled how the teen affected Heights students. "Ryan often came to school when he was not feeling well. Classmates saw and knew this, and it made a lasting impression upon them, the importance he placed on school. We rallied behind him because it was the right thing to do. Students empathized with him, and we empathized that he could be any one of them and they would want to be treated normally."

When Ryan was successfully enrolled in school at Heights, it became a very public highlight of Cook's educational career. But to Cook, it was important to get know Ryan as a student. "I knew Ryan very well. I talked to him almost daily when he was at school. My wife and I attended his 16th birthday party with about 10 other students from school and his family. He was a thoughtful, kind and caring young man."

Ryan White's name will live on for young people to remember.

"Ryan, worldwide, put a compassionate and understanding face on the AIDS disease. He brought national attention to a disease that he contracted through a blood transfusion because of his hemophilia," Cook said. "Because of the compassion for him and the attention he received, teaching and fighting his disease, AIDS research skyrocketed and now AIDS patients are treated more effectively, and their life span is greatly I increased."

Cook said, "Ryan was a quiet, thoughtful, shy unassuming young man, who made a lasting impact on Hamilton Heights and throughout the nation in his brief time with us. He changed the face of AIDS and the prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding it."

Ryan White's legacy lives on to support those affected by HIV/AIDS in Indiana and across the nation through federal legislation and increased public awareness and research.