In both 2008 and 2012, Sheila and George went on road trips to nearby swing states in an effort to get out the vote for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Her first signs of weakness emerged while she was doing campaign field work near Philadelphia the weekend before the election — although we didn’t know that the weakness was due to cancer for several weeks after that.
As she grew sicker, she continued to take pride in a sense that she and George were responsible for some infinitesimal fraction of Obama’s electoral college votes for Pennsylvania and Virginia.
This 2005 article about the changing experience of HIV+ adolescents includes quotes from Sheila:
”This is not like cancer,” says Sheila Ryan, program director of the Special Needs Clinic at Columbia-Presbyterian. ”These families are not a cross-section of the population. These issues would be agonizing for any family to deal with, but the families that are likely to be dealing with H.I.V. are more likely to have problems with substance abuse and mental illness. These are poor families, and even within the poor community more likely to be fragile than others on the same block.” …
”The two issues they keep coming back to,” Sheila Ryan of Columbia-Presbyterian says, ”are the permanence of the virus — the idea that there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it — and what kind of impact it will have on their capacity to have children, which is partly a question about the ways in which they might be impaired or maimed or less than others.”
”Sometimes kids find ways of protecting themselves from the information,” Ryan adds. ”One girl who was in here, at the time we finally said the word H.I.V., she said, ‘But I know I don’t have AIDS.’ I said, ‘How’d you figure that out?’ And she said, ‘Because if you have AIDS, you’re skinny and living in Africa, so I know I don’t have it.’ Or another girl who was 15 — her mother told her the week before she came in here for the first time, and her response to that was simply that her mother had lied to her.”
Here’s a letter to the editor of the New York Times that Sheila wrote in 2002:
To the Editor:
Jimmy Carter reminds us that American weapons supplied to the Israeli government are to be used for defensive purposes only, “a legal requirement,” he observes, “certainly being violated in the recent destruction in Jenin and other towns of the West Bank” (Op-Ed, April 21).
Media accounts abound of Israeli use of Cobra and Apache helicopters against Jenin: indeed, in an April 18 news article you reported finding debris with English stenciling near the body of an elderly woman apparently killed in an Apache missile attack on the refugee camp there. The United Nations is investigating the catastrophic events in Jenin. Congress will be shamefully shirking responsibility if it fails to inquire into the use of American weapons in Israel’s recent attacks on West Bank cities, villages and refugee camps.
Sheila is cited in this report by a director of Faith House in St. Louis:
A larger, unmet challenge still faces us. HIV/AIDS is now the sixth leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Sheila Ryan of the Special Needs Clinic of the New York Presbyterian Hospital warns about a serious lack of services nationwide for HIV-infected teens. Adolescents do not fit into most traditional programs because of their particular learning problems and emotional and behavioral issues. It is past time for our community to address this population.
An article in Redbook magazine in 1999 quotes Sheila about the patients at the Special Needs Clinic:
Ryan, herself a mother of five, is a rock-solid presence. … “These are people whom the system considers expendable,” says Ryan. “They’ve been beaten down and traumatized, their families have been torn apart. And still they won’t give up. Their will to survive–not just in a physical sense but as human beings–is inspiring.”
Read on for a good overview of the clinic and the unique way it helps their patients:
The Forgotten Children
THEIR MOTHERS HAVE BEEN CLAIMED BY AIDS. THE SYSTEM HAS FORGOTTEN THEM. FINALLY, THERE’S A RAY OF HOPE FOR THE EPIDEMIC’S HIDDEN VICTIMS.
The Special Needs Clinic was founded in 1992 and specializes in the mental health treatment of HIV-affected families.
Sheila began as an intern, became their first employee, and then a co-director.
With Sheila’s help, the clinic has treated almost two thousand patients:
Since its inception, the clinic has treated over 1,600 socioeconomically disadvantaged children, adolescents, and adult family members who are themselves HIV-positive or are living in families with HIV-infected and/or drug-addicted family members; it currently has approximately 300 patients at any one time and is staffed by more than 20 clinicians and lay staff.
In 1991, a book was published about the Gulf War that included a chapter by Sheila about US preparation for force projection in the middle east prior to the 1991 Gulf War.
Here’s the opening paragraph:
One of the aspects of the Gulf War of 1991 which seemed to amaze many Americans was the efficiency with which the U.S. military carried out the enterprise. Within six months of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States had deployed half a million military personnel to the region, and had all of their supplies and equipment on hand: television viewers in the United States watched the process transfixed, for many of them experienced great difficulty in being deployed about their daily routines over bridges rusting out for lack of maintenance, pothole scarred roads and public transportation systems characterized by delay and discomfort. People marveled as targets were sought out and destroyed by smart bombs produced by the very country whose declining educational system sees to be producing a dumb generation.
— From “Countdown for a Decade: The U.S. Build-Up for War in the Gulf”, by Sheila Ryan, in Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader, edited by Phyllis Bennis, Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Pub Group, 1991, pp 91 – 102.
In 1988, Sheila volunteered with the coalition organizing an anti-nuclear march and concert in Central Park.
The event coincided with the Third United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. The coalition says it endorses the abolition of nuclear weapons, self-determination for all nations, an end to military intervention and a shift from military buildups to global economic development.
In 1987, the Reagan Administration charged seven Palestinian immigrants and one Kenyan with being associated with a group which published material that advocated international communism, using provisions of the McCarthy-era McCarran-Walter Act.
Sheila travelled to Los Angeles for a time to help with the case.
She wrote an article about the case for a journal published by the Association of Arab American University Graduates: “Palestinian Deportation Case Continues,” by Sheila Ryan, Mideast Monitor, IV, 2 (1987).
In 2007, after twenty years of legal battles, the McCarran-Walter Act was ruled unconstitutional and all of the charges were dropped.
One of Sheila’s book titles prompted a airport-security profiling incident in 1986:
Rema Simon, a 23-year-old citizen of Massachusetts, is of French and Lebanese descent. She works in the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Social Law Library. But on the evening of May 1, she was in Ft. Lauderdale, about to end her vacation and take a Delta Airlines flight back to Boston.
Having passed the usual security check, Simon was on board, waiting for the plane to take off and reading a book, “Palestine Is, but Not in Jordan.” Looking up, she saw a man “carrying a walkie-talkie. He said, ‘Miss, could you please come with me? I have to talk to you.’ ” She followed him off the plane. “We stood outside the door of the aircraft,” she said. “Several flight attendants and airline or airport personnel stood around us.”
“A Palestinian State for Israel’s Sake“, by Sheila Ryan, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 14, No. 2, Special Issue: The Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories (Winter, 1985), pp. 154-156.