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An Article from 1994 About Ryan Gralinski
Providence Journal – Providence, R.I.
Author:BARBARA POLICHETTI Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
Date:Sep 16, 1994
Text Word Count:1070
COVENTRY — Ryan Gralinski’s close friends know that he loves riding his bicycle, skating and spending hours playing with his home computer. He also loves watching professional hockey and is an avid fan of the New York Rangers.
Yesterday Ryan Gralinski, 12, told his friends something they didn’t know about him. He is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Ryan made his announcement to his classmates at the Coventry Middle School at the start of the school day. His doctor, a nurse and one of his closest friends were on hand to answer any questions the students might have.
“I was shaking at first,” Ryan said later. “I just told them, ‘I have HIV and I got it through a blood transfusion.’ ”
Ryan is believed to be the first child in a Rhode Island public school to announce that he has HIV. Officials at the state Health Department and the Department of Education said he is probably not the only student with HIV. But it is nearly impossible to track because they are not required to notify anyone and state and federal confidentiality laws prohibit officials from disclosing any such information without a student’s consent.
A slim boy with blond hair and brown eyes, Ryan talked with newspaper reporters yesterday afternoon at the School Department administration building. He was accompanied by his parents, who said going public was strictly Ryan’s decision.
“I couldn’t keep it a secret,” Ryan, who will turn 13 in November, said succinctly. “I just want people to know that I’m not going to die soon. I’m the same person I’ve always been. And I don’t have AIDS.”
Until three months ago, the Gralinskis thought they were an average family with twin boys. Their reality was shattered in June when the family received a phone call from the hospital where the boys were born and was told there was a chance that a blood transfusion Ryan received shortly after birth was contaminated.
Ryan was born second and was smaller than his brother. He received the blood transfusion a day after he was born.
Once notified, the entire family was tested and Ryan tested positive for HIV.
“That’s one of the reasons we don’t want people to be scared,” Ryan’s father said. “We weren’t aware that he was infected and we did all the typical family things. Bloody noses, changing diapers and eating the pizza crust (the boys) would leave.”
Although the Gralinskis support Ryan’s decision to tell his classmates, they were still wrestling with the implications of publicity yesterday and asked that their first names not be used.
They said they hope that Ryan’s decision will turn out to be a positive one that results in more education and less fear about HIV infection. And they hope the town reacts with compassion for their son.
Support from superintendent
Ryan’s attendance at the middle school and his decision to go public has the full support of Coventry School Supt. Raymond Spear. Before school opened, Spear said, officials met with doctors and nurses to make sure there was no health threat to other students.
“We met with staff from the Department of Health, Ryan’s doctors and the school physcians, and it was (clear) that Ryan’s proper place is in school,” Spear said. “That’s where he belongs and that’s where we intend to keep him.”
“I hope this community opens its arms and hugs this boy,” Spear said. “I hope they realize that in addition to what he is facing he had the courage to stand up and face his classmates.”
A note was sent home with the 900 Coventry Middle School students yesterday, notifying parents that one student has tested postive for HIV. The letter explains that daily casual contact poses no health threat to either students or staff.
The letter also announces that a meeting will be held Monday to answer parents’ questions. Spear said that doctors and nurses will be on hand for the meeting which will be held at 6 p.m. at the Middle School.
Paul Loberti, chief of the Health Department’s office of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, said there are no documented cases of the HIV virus being transmitted in schools. Although the department never uses the phrase “no risk,” Loberti said, the risk an HIV-infected student poses to his classmates is extremely low. “We try and make the message basic that (the virus) is transmitted blood to blood or through body fluid transfer,” he said.
The Health Department has guidelines for incidents where a child may fall down and suffer a cut and the backbone of the policy, Loberti said, is that teachers everywhere assume that any child could be HIV-infected. Recommended precautions include wearing surgical gloves, not coming in contact with the blood and making sure the area is properly cleaned.
Spear said that Coventry has had a similar policy pertaining to HIV students since 1989, and that Ryan’s disclosure will require no changes for teachers, janitors or other staff members.
According to current medical information, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, but it can go undetected and exhibit no symptoms for years. Also, it is believed that some people with HIV never develop AIDS or related illness.
The Gralinskis said they will continue family life as before. There are no planned special events for Ryan, who wants to be a pilot when he grows up, because “we plan on having a lot of years to do a lot of things,” his mother said.
Until yesterday, Ryan had told only several close friends of his condition, and believes he lost two of the friends as a results. One of the things he wants to tell people is something that was passed along to him by a friend who is a paramedic: “He told me I have time and technology on my side.”
Ryan said he is happy with his decision to tell people about HIV and he is not afraid of losing friends, because “the only ones who will treat me different (now) are the ones who really didn’t care.”
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