Hope Wissel

Ryan White Remembered

This past Monday was the anniversary of Ryan White’s death. Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13. He and his mother fought for his right to attend school, gaining international attention as a voice of reason about HIV/AIDS. At the age of 18, Ryan White died on April 8, 1990, just months before Congress passed the AIDS bill that bears his name – the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act.

WOW! It hardly seems possible that 23 years has passed since his death.  It would be about a year later that I would come to learn about him, his life and how my life would be changed forever with my involvement with the South Jersey AIDS Alliance (SJAA).  

I began with SJAA as a community service volunteer – mandated to do 180 hours of community service.  I finished my hours in the weeks before December 1st, World AIDS Day but the people I met there kept me involved for 9 years.  Memories of Matt McCrossen, Web and many others helped me to put a face to the AIDS panademic.  I joined the staff of SJAA in 1990 working in Cumberland County where AIDS was a taboo subject.  My clients and their families became a part of mine and my daughter, Belinda’s, life.  It was there that Belinda learned about diversity, compassion, giving and helping others.  She gladly shared her toys with others who had nothing.  Holidays took on a special meaning as we, along with my SJAA staff and volunteers, made them special for the children affected and infected with HIV/AIDS in Cumberland County.    

Also during this time, my roommate’s sister was diagnosed with AIDS along with two of her children.  Que and Brittany fought daily for their life against this deadly disease.  Brittany was born the same day as my daughter Belinda and her battle ended quickly while Que lived to the age of 9 years old.  Belinda loved playing with Que, he didn’t talk but they could sit for hours playing and talking in their own way.  

My years working for SJAA, then as Staff for the Cumberland County HIV Planning Council and a Board member of New Jersey Women and AIDS Network – were an emotional journey of growing professionally and personally.  Memories that I am grateful for.  People who taught me so much without even knowing it.  As I look back on the last few years, there is little talk about HIV/AIDS.  An occasional story in paper but not much else.  Some would say that is because there isn’t as big of a problem or it’s not a “deadly” disease now – only a “chronic” disease.  

The bottom line is that there are still people becoming infected.  We need to be proactive in sharing the stories that will prevent others from becoming infected from this deadly disease.  As for me, I will be looking for more opportunities to get involved locally now that I have moved from South Jersey.  I would love to help some families who are infected and/ or affected by HIV/AIDS locally – let me know via email or message if you know someone.  

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day.


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