ALANA DURAN: So, for the most part, just being immunosuppressed already, um, I try not to touch door knobs and elevator buttons. Um, and to me it's just second nature. But yeah, after coronavirus really hit is when I started really paying attention.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot…
...and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
Alana Duran was on our show a little more than two years ago, talking about falling in love with, and getting a kidney from, her girlfriend, Lori Interlicchio. In just a bit, we’re going to play that conversation again for you, because it’s a nice love story about taking care of each other.
Alana has lupus. So we've been thinking about her, and wondering how she’s coping right now as someone with a serious underlying health condition. I called her in Washington, D.C., where lives today. She’s turning 30 this year.
AD: Even though I look young and healthy from the normal eye, I am immunocompromised, immunosuppressed. Um, I take medication that suppresses my immune system and people with lupus are already at a higher risk of getting viral and bacterial infections. Um, so knowing that, if I were to get coronavirus, I don't think I would make it.
To protect her health, Alana decided three weeks ago to stop going in to work. When we talked on the show before, she was working in a biology lab, but she just recently started a new career as a pastry chef.
AD: It’s very cool. It’s very fun and I love it. Um, my employer and boss, she is amazing. And when things really did start to get serious, um, she actually gave us all an option. Are you comfortable coming in to work? If not, just say, I'm not comfortable to this email and I will take you off the schedule. Um, and she knows my medical history for the most part, and was totally fine with me not coming in for, we don't know how long right now, nobody does. Um. So it was really nice to have that support from her and understanding.
AS: So, so getting saying, please take me off the schedule. I'm not comfortable coming in. Are you still gonna get paid?
AD: No. Not, not in the service industry, I’m not.
Alana told me she’s got some savings, so she isn’t worried about paying her bills right now. And she’s trying to stay inside her apartment as much as possible, away from other people.
AD: And like right now, I do not share an elevator with anybody. So when it, when I do have to go down and grab a package, I will wait for another elevator to come. And if that has somebody in it, "Oh no, thank you. I'll wait for the next one."
AS: Really, just to not share, just 'cause it's too close.
AD: Yeah, that's not six feet apart. And I'm like, heaven forbid they cough. [Laughs]
AS: Have you, has, has COVID-19, has it changed the way that you, how frequently you're talking to your doctors or, or anything about your access to medication?
AD: Um, currently no. I have always been getting my medication through a mail-in pharmacy. So before everything really started they called and they set up a date to deliver my medication. So I have about a month or two of some current medications. One of the important ones that I've taken, and maybe you've heard in the news is hydroxychloroquine. Plaquenil. And I've been taking that since the age of 12. It is an anti-malarial medication and it is also shows some, um, potential in helping treat COVID-19 patients. So my doctor did call me on Thursday and she said, "Hi Alana"—my rheumatologist—"How are you doing? Are you working from home?" Was the first question. I said, no, I actually quit my job for the time being so I could stay home. Second question she asked is, "Do you have enough Placquenil?" And I said, yeah, I have enough Placquenil, hydroxychloroquine. Why you ask? And then she's, she went into it like, hey, this might be a new treatment for COVID-19. So that's the only, like I'm out of the ordinary call I've gotten with my doctor so far.
AS: Yeah. How nice of her to reach out. I mean, I imagine she's quite busy and to call all patients proactively is good medical care.
AD: Definitely. She is really something else. Um, she's very strict. Um, she tells - she's kind of bossy. She tells me what to do a lot. I was like, Oh, you know, you do not have to worry about me! I am home home. I have enough groceries. I have enough medication. I'm not leaving. I'm not going anywhere.
AS: Do you have, do you feel nervous about your supply? Like even though you have enough now, do you feel, does that cause some worry for you if there's a run on it, all of a sudden.
AD: Um, no, not, not right now. But I'm sure that at some point within the next month, um, be a little bit more worried about it when I need it.
Alana, we are rooting for you to stay safe and healthy right now.
And because we could all use a feel-good story about people coming together during times of sickness, here’s the first time that Alana was on our show, back in 2017. We hope you enjoy it.
Lori Interlicchio had just finished college and moved home when she tried Tinder for the first time.
LI: I mainly just wanted to find some more queer women friends on Long Island. You know, it's not always as easy to go out and meet people or, you know, sometimes you're just looking for people to surround yourself with who are kind of like yourself. And you know, it's kind of like a fun toy, it's like shopping for people online. [Laughter]
Laughing along with her there is Alana Duran, whom Lori first noticed during those early days on Tinder.
LI: Well I do remember scrolling through Alana's pictures and being like, "This girl's really cute. I'm not going to swipe yet because I want to look at her." Um, and she seemed funny, she had a cute bio and I remember just thinking that I hope she swiped back on me. And she did.
AD: Wait, can you tell them what was on my bio, though?
LI: Oh my goodness. Yeah, she had this joke and it was um...
AD: A Mexican magician...
LI: A Mexican magician said, "I'm going to disappear on the count of three." And he said, "uno, dos," and he disappeared without a "tres." And I loved that. [Laughter]
AD: It was so corny but it worked.
AS: I like that joke but I also love that Alana, you were like, "Will you tell the joke that I had on my bio?" [Laughter] "It's just really good!"
LI: It was really good.
Lori and Alana have been together two years now. When I talked with them, they were in a studio together in New York while I was in California. When they first met, Lori was 22 years old, and living with her parents as she applied to law school. She was not looking for anything serious.
Alana was 25, still finishing college on Long Island, and by that point, a Tinder veteran.
AD: I had like matched with a decent amount of people.
AS: You're on the market.
AD: Yes. I was.
Alana knew how to work it on Tinder. Like Lori, Alana’s very cute, fit-looking. And going on dates with people she’d met online had taught her when to reveal that she actually wasn’t very healthy at all.
AS: When would you disclose that you were dealing with lupus?
AD: Um, sometimes like beginning talking to them. Maybe after like a week or so, if it would last that long. Or, I wouldn't really - I, I'd kind of say it in passing like, "Oh, I had a bunch of health issues, yadda yadda yadda," and then when I met with them in person and we were actually on a date, then I would go into it in like a little more detail. Um, but not so much to overwhelm them. They'd be like, "Oh my god, this is too much for me, like let's go, let's go, leave leave leave."
Lupus is an autoimmune disease with a wide range of symptoms and complications. It disproportionately affects young black women, like Alana. And her case is severe.
AD: I still sometimes have a hard time remembering how many surgeries I've had. Which sounds funny to regular people. They're like, "Oh, I just remember I had my wisdom teeth out and like my appendix." But for me, it's, it started with, uh, a hip infection that led to them taking out my right hip joint and then months of antibiotics and then they replaced the hip. I had another surgery to implant my cardiac device, um, it's a pacemaker-slash-defibrillator. And like there had been times when I was in the hospital for months. Like, literally months. Like one year I missed Thanksgiving because I was still in the hospital um, like another time I just totally missed spring, it felt like, it was just summer by the time I got out.
AS: Yeah. And when - how old were you when you got the lupus diagnosis?
AD: Um, I was 12 when I was diagnosed with lupus. Um, at first they thought it was leukemia, um, or some kind of cancer. I felt sore in places I usually - you know, like my joints, my elbows, my hands, my fingers. Places that usually didn't hurt for me were starting to hurt and I didn't understand why.
AS: When did you first realize that this is something that might kill you?
AD: Um, let's see. Uh, really the heart, my heart function had dropped towards maybe ten percent, twelve percent and even then, I thought I was gonna be okay. Like I had faith in myself and in modern medicine, that I would be okay. But the doctors and nurses and even my family and friends weren't sure if I was gonna make it through the night. And that's really when, you know—after that, when I was like really aware of what was happening—after that is when I really realized that this is something that can kill me.
On their first date, Alana told Lori that she had lupus. And then, about a week later, Alana told Lori that her kidneys were failing—and she was on dialysis to manage it.
LI: I had a lot of questions.
AD: Yeah, Lori definitely did have a lot of questions.
LI: Meeting Alana, you would just would never ever know that she was sick. Uh, so, I you know, I'd never like talked to someone about dialysis before, I was just, like, "When do you go on it? How long does it take? What does your machine look like?" A lot of those kinds of questions. Um, about her long term health prospects. And, um, you know, needing a kidney.
AS: So it's like a whole other dimension of those kinds of really deep conversations you have when you're first connecting with someone that you, you know, are dating.
AS: It's like a whole other level of how do you think about your life?
LI: Yeah, like I think a lot of people will immediately start asking like, you know "Well what do you want to do in the long term?" or "You know, do you want kids at some point?" Like, these are things that you wanna like found out about relatively early on and I guess part of it is like, "Hey, if this works out, like what is our life going to look like?" You know?
AS: And what did being on dialysis mean for your daily routine? What sorts of restrictions did it put on what you could do and where?
AD: So, being on dialysis, I did a certain kind of dialysis that I did from home. So pretty much, I have this big machine that I have next to my bed and I would hook it up and I would do it while I slept, so with that being said, um, night life was rather hard [AS laughter], I had to be on my machine, my treatment time was ten hours. So most people don't even get like seven hours of sleep a night, so to be hooked up to a machine in my bedroom for ten hours is, like an outrageous amount of time.
At the end of their nights together, Alana would hook up herself up to her dialysis machine while Lori watched.
It didn’t scare Lori off, like Alana feared. It did make Lori think about how it didn’t need to be like this.
LI: I can be a little impulsive and blurt things out, and I remember like almost blurting out like—you know, I asked her what her blood type, blood type was and she said, "O-positive." And I wanted to just blurt out, "Oh, I'm O-positive, I wonder if I could donate." And then I stopped myself and was like, "That would be a stupid thing to say right now, like think about this." And I went home and I, the next day, I, I, I like I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was like, you know, I googled it and I was like, "Maybe this is like a I thing that I could do." And then I called one of my former roommates who I am just really close friends with and I started asking her like, "Is this absolutely insane or is this like, fine?"
AS: And what did your friend say?
LI: Uh, she was like, "Wow, that's a lot." But she's a very rational person, she knows me super well and she said like, "I think that this is not you just acting on a whim and just doing this because you like her a lot. Like I think that this is something that you would do." And, I dunno, it's kind of like a why not, right? Like, I, I don't want to say, "What do I have to lose?" because like a kidney [laughter] but um, but like it's one that I don't need, right? So, that just like made sense to me, to do that. Um, like if a another person needs like something that you don't need and aren't gonna miss, then like, whatever, right? Why not give it to them?
AS: How much time had you spent with Alana when you decided to see if you'd be an eligible donor?
LI: Um, not a lot. So I think this was probably my, probably our third date? I think it was like our third week maybe. So it was probably like the fourth time we'd actually hung out.
AD: Probably. And she's on the couch and that's what I remember—her being on my couch and like, kind of asking casually like, "Hey, do you think I would be able to get tested to see if I'm a kidney match for you?" And I think like at the time, I was literally setting up my dialysis stuff. Um, for the night.
AS: Had you told each other you loved each other?
AD: Yeah, I don't think [LI: No] so. [Laughter] You're very definite about it. I'm like "I don't think so..."
LI: We didn't. I have the timeline in my head a little bit.
LI: And we had not.
AS: When, when did that happen?
LI: Um, I'm not sure exactly when, but I know that it was after I asked her to be my girlfriend. And this was before I asked her to be my girlfriend.
AS: Wait are you serious? [Laughs]
AS: You hadn't defined the relationship before you discussed...?
LI: Yeah, we had not yet defined the relationship.
AD: Well that's actually a funny story.
LI: So like three days later we were filling out the, um, initial paperwork that you have to fill out before you go to a, before you get tested to see if you're a match. And there was a box that said "Relationship to the recipient" and I wrote "girlfriend." And I was like, "Is this okay?" [Laughter] So that's, that's when we, we started... [AS: Became official?] Yes.
LI: They were definitely not thrilled at first.
Lori tells her parents that she has a new girlfriend. And that she might be giving her a kidney.
LI: They hadn't met Alana, they didn't really know I was seeing anyone.
AS: Did they think you were being impulsive?
LI: Absolutely. Yes. [Laughs] Yes, they did.
We have been hearing from a lot of you about how this time of isolation and stress has put your relationship status...in sharp relief. Those of you who are partnered are like, very partnered right now. It’s a lot of time together. Including for some of you were beginning to consider divorce, and now you’re stuck together. Others of you were dating, getting out there, hooking up. And now, that’s not happening.
I’ve been thinking about intimate, physical touch in our lives right now after a conversation I had with Nick van der Kolk, the host and creator of the podcast Love + Radio. He and I are both isolating at home with partners and two little kids. I feel too touched right now to be honest, by two little ones vying for my attention.
But if you're isolating alone, we’re wondering what are you noticing about the absence of intimate, physical touch from someone else?
Nick and I decided to ask both Death, Sex & Money listeners and Love + Radio listeners what you’re noticing about touch and intimacy and having space to yourself (or not), and how it’s all making you think about your romantic life. What you’re missing, what you’re appreciating.
Record a voice memo or write an email and send it to us at email@example.com.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
It was unusual for Alana Duran to get offered a kidney in the first weeks of dating someone from Tinder. But it wasn’t the first time someone in her life had talked about getting tested. She knew not to get her hopes up.
AD: I would get a lot of, like what Lori was saying before, how she wanted to blurt it out, like, "Oh, I'm o-positive," like, "I could probably get tested." I got a lot of that. But with no follow-through. And, you know, they just like, shout it out and don't really mean it, there's no meaning behind it. Um, so that was fucking annoying. I'm not going to lie. But most of my family did get tested, I'm pretty sure like a few other friends got tested and none of them were a match. Um, but then I have like, you know, just like, friends, who didn't get tested. And you know, I don't expect anybody to do that, because that's a lot to do and ask of someone. So, I think really, I was just more annoyed at the people who blurted it out and didn't mean it.
Alana did know that Lori had started the testing process. But then, Lori stopped bringing it up.
AD: So, I kind of stopped asking about it, because I thought, oh, you know, maybe she didn't want to get tested anymore. Maybe she isn't a match and she just, you know, doesn't want to tell me or she kind of just dropped the whole thing altogether.
Lori hadn’t dropped it, but she didn’t want to get Alana’s hopes up unless she knew she could really be a donor. And, Lori needed to tell her parents.
LI: That, they were not thrilled about.
AS: Did that make you feel defensive? Or like...
LI: Oh yeah, yeah, I felt defensive. We argued for like a couple days, actually, and uh, and they were just scared. You know, that's all it is, is that they were scared, because they love me. And I love them. So, I appreciate that they were scared, but, you know, my parents were freaked out. They didn't even know this person and I was thinking about having major surgery for her [laughs]. And...
AS: You hadn't introduced Alana to them...
LI: No, I hadn't told them [AS: Yeah] about Alana. So, I kinda just did all of that in one conversation and then, I mean I needed medical history from them, so that's kind of why I asked them this stuff, and then I went for the first doctor's appointment and then about two weeks later I found out that I was a match, and I told them that, and they were, again, still really freaked out.
But Lori had made up her mind. And after a series of follow-up visits with doctors, it was time to tell Alana.
AD: Um, she was supposed to meet me at my apartment so we could go on a date and she's late, per usual, and I'm like, "Where IS she, oh my god?" So she comes into my apartment. And then on the table there's a box with my name on it. And she says, "Oh, I got you something."
Lori got out her phone and recorded Alana unwrapping this box full of treats.
AD: So I open the box, and it's all of my favorite stuff, my favorite candy...
[AD IN VIDEO: Yeah, Sour Patch Kids, watermelon...]
...things that I think are cute,
[AD IN VIDEO: Ooo! Star Wars! Is this why you asked if I like Star Wars?]
AD: And, you know, I didn't know that at the bottom of the box was going to be...
[AD IN VIDEO: "I'm making you choose between me and that damn dialysis machine?" "No matter what, you'll always have a piece of me." "Tattoos are over-rated, let's get matching scars." No way! Oh my god! [Crying] This is amazing! I have to call my mom!”]
They both posted this video on Facebook, and it got shared a lot, first by people they knew, then strangers. A filmmaker reached out to ask if she could follow them as they went through the transplant process.
So there were cameras there on the day, weeks later, when Lori and Alana both went into surgery.
[LORI'S MOM: Love you so much sweetheart.]
[LI: I love you mama.]
It took place early on a winter morning. Both their families were there. Alana and Lori had known each for four months.
[AD: It’s the best gift ever, you know that right?]
They were wheeled into surgical rooms right next door to each other. Surgeons removed Lori’s left kidney...walked into the next room...and put it into Alana.
[NURSE: Alana you have a new kidney!]
And then Lori and Alana waited...together...to see if Alana’s body would accept Lori’s kidney.
LI: My main concern was that we were going to come out of the surgery and find out that the whole thing was, was for nothing and that I couldn't help her.
AS: And just um, tell me about when you're in recovery, and you learn that the kidney is working inside Alana's body, Lori. What was that like?
LI: Um, it was just like, a flood of relief. Yeah, I just didn't feel like I could really rest until I knew that. And when I knew that, like it just, it all, it was just all so worth it.
AS: Alana, what's changed in your life now that you have a functioning kidney?
AD: Well, for the most part, one, I do have a functioning kidney and I can actually pee—before, on dialysis, I like would not pee at all.
AS: So you just kind of stop peeing when you're on dialysis?
AD: Yeah, for the most part, maybe [AS: I didn't know that!] I'd go like once a day or like twice a day like once in the morning and then try to go once before bed? But like it was unproductive pee, that's what I'd call it. An unproductive pee. I felt like I had to go but I couldn't. Um, so that was the biggest change, like immediate change for me.
AS: Do you feel like...
AD: Oh, right, sorry, most import—most important part—sorry, Lori was motioning at me that, it also increased my heart function? Her kidney?[AS: Oh, that is important, yeah.] So, remember when I said I was, at the time, when it was really bad, it was at 10 percent. But then after that, it increased, I think to 40, and then the last echo-cardiogram, was 62 percent, which is normal. So I now have a normal heart function, thanks to Lori's kidney.
LI: Sorry, didn't want to toot my own horn there, but I was like, "Uh, that's a pretty significant one to leave out."
AD: Yeah. [Laughs]
AS: [Laughs] I think you've earned some tooting, Lori.
LI: [Laughs] Thank you!
AS: Toot away.
AS: You're, you're in a long-term relationship together, you were in the early part of that relationship when you went through this really intense thing. Like, do you remember the first time - do you remember the first time you got mad at each other after the surgery?
AD: I really don't...
LI: I don't know. Like I think that for at least three months we were just so happy that everything went well, there was no fighting. And then...
AD: Yeah, I feel like [LI: I don't, I don't remember] it must have been in the summer, at least.
AS: Several months afterwards.
LI: Oh, it might have been when I called Alana and told her I was gonna move to Michigan. [Laughs]
AD: So she called me and she always prefaced like something bad with like, "Okay, don't get mad at me." Or, "Okay, I have some bad news, but like, it's not my fault." Or you know, something like that, um, and she's like, "I got accepted into University of Michigan Law School." And I was like, "Wow, that's great, but now you're leaving and I still have another year of school left. And like, I can't, I can't, I can't leave and go with you." I wasn't mad, per se. I was just like, "What, like already?"
LI: It was like the first tension.
AS: And this is still just a few months after your surgeries.
LI: Yeah. And, um, you know, she was great and she was supportive but I think that she was scared and maybe a little bit annoyed that like, "I dunno if I want to move to Michigan in a year, right?" So, it just kind of added an element.
AS: Lori, was there a part of you that worried about leaving Alana?
LI: Definitely. Yeah, I mean, like, I totally trust that she has like such a great support system. But, yeah, I was worried that she would have to go to the hospital at some point. That had happened like immediately after the surgery. There was like a night where we had to, you know, Alana had to go to the hospital and get the kidney checked on because she was not doing well. And I definitely worried at least for the first few months that that could just happen at any time. I know that right now Alana is doing really well health-wise, but I also know that that could just change at any time. Um, and, like, I'm definitely super, like willing to always take care of her. But I think that that's something that always is just in the back of my head a little bit, is that one day she could get sick again. And that, that's - if she does, that will be a big part of our lives.
AS: How, how do talk about like, the power dynamic in your relationship? I think in any relationship there's, there's a partner who might be more needy in a moment and another who can give more and sometimes that shifts back and forth—you all have had a very extreme example of that. How, how have you talked about that?
AD: I think that Lori did a really good job, um, starting the conversation. So, Lori said something like, "You know, even though I'm giving you a kidney, we don't have to stay together. If you wanna break up, you can break up—you don't have to stay with me because I gave you a kidney." Um, and that was really nice to hear. I mean, I wasn't planning on breaking up with her, but to know that—you know, because like, I don't know how to explain it!—someone gave me a literal piece of them. Like, what—like, you know, I can't repay them for that. Um, so, like, kind of in my mind I was thinking, or like, that would come up, like, "Oh, I can't break up with Lori because she gave me a kidney. That'd be terrible, people would be really really mad at me."
AS: Yeah, it's a lot of pressure. Yeah.
AD: Yeah, exactly. There is a lot of pressure there. And like having Lori come in and say, "Hey, if you need to break up with me because it's not working, that's fine, don't worry about it, like obviously it's gonna suck, but just because I gave you a kidney does not mean you have to stay with me forever."
AS: Do you think that's true? That, even though it's something that's been said, that you would find, like that that's something that you could do?
AD: Lori, I didn't want you to find out this way, but...[laughter]. No, no, I mean, I think it's true. I mean, I, we haven't put it to the test, but I think if I needed to, I would be able to. What about you?
LI: I mean, Alana can definitely break up with me. My mom pointed that out, like super early on to me, that like this is maybe not the best thing for a brand-new relationship. And Alana and I talked about it immediately. We talked about it before, um, [AD: The surgery]. Like, far before the surgery, yeah. And, like I remember even saying like, "If you want to break up with me before the surgery, like, this is brand new, if you—like you're cool and we can be friends and it doesn't have to be—like, that's not why I'm doing it." So, I mean, I hope that she knows she can break up with me. Like, I mean I don't want her to break up with me ever, but like if it happens, it will be treated like a normal breakup.
That’s Lori Interlicchio and Alana Duran. After our first conversation, Alana moved to Michigan to live with Lori while she finished up law school. After graduation, they moved together to Washington, D.C. And this past fall, they decided to break up. Lori wrote on Instagram, “Our romantic relationship is ending, but we still love and care for each other very much. All that you need to know, Internet, is that nobody did anything wrong.”
The documentary about Lori and Alana—and the kidney they’ve shared—is called Bean. It’s available on Amazon Prime and many other streaming services too.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. I’m based, usually, at the studios of the investigative podcast Reveal in Emeryville, California. Our team includes Katie Bishop, Anabel Bacon, Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn.
Our intern is Ayo Osobamiro.
The Reverend John DeLore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
And thanks to Rachel Manwill in Idaho, who’s a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. Join Rachel and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
I’m on twitter @annasale, the show is @deathsexmoney on twitter, instagram and Facebook. And you can email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alana told me she’d just started getting back on the dating apps when the pandemic hit. Her first in-person date ended up getting cancelled.
AD: Maybe it’s just the universe saying hey, maybe you’re not as ready as you think right now. Just keeping talking to people. Maybe you can meet them in a month or two.
I’m Anna Sale and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.