IUDM was established to memorialize the courageous life and story of
Ryan White. In memory of Ryan’s life and work, the annual Dance Marathon
benefits Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and established the Ryan
White Infectious Disease Center. Now, more than 32 years later, the letters
RW emulate courage, perseverance, and never giving up on something
you believe in.
Ryan was a typical 13-year-old Hoosier when he contracted AIDS through
contaminated blood transfusions he received for hemophilia. When news of his
diagnosis became public, his school district in Kokomo, Indiana denied him the right to return to classes. The ensuing court battles made headlines across the country and national celebrities like Michael Jackson and Elton John became friends with Ryan and advocated on his behalf. Ryan was not just fighting against his school district, but a fearful, misinformed community.
Ryan won the right to return to school, but this battle with the community and the disease itself had just begun. The White’s struggled through many traumatic experiences at the hand of the people in the community. The family dealt with the fear and anger of these people on a daily basis hoping that eventually things would return to normal. However, after a bullet was fired into the White home, the family moved to Cicero, Indiana, where they found peace.
Throughout his own struggles with the disease and public misconceptions, Ryan spoke out. He combated bigotry with calls for compassion and appeared at schools and fundraisers across the country. He even testified before the President’s Commission on AIDS.
On April 8, 1990, Ryan White died while battling a vigorous fight against AIDS and a courageous fight against the misinformed world. His passing happened in the spring before he had planned to attend Indiana University. His fight to help those afflicted with infectious diseases was continued, in part, when Jill Stewart decided that she needed to do more to honor Ryan’s legacy. She set a goal to create the first dance marathon, Indiana University Dance Marathon.