In the summer of 2009, when Diana was three and a half years old, her health took a tumble. She began to run high fevers and vomit, and gain weight at a baffling pace. She made several trips to the emergency room over the course of two months before doctors finally diagnosed her with two rare, life-threatening conditions. The first, atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, went after her kidneys, “and really messed them up,” Diana told me. The other, secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, sparked waves of inflammation, and walloped just about everything else. Diana spent months receiving chemotherapy, immunosuppression, and dialysis treatments, and about five years on a low-sodium, low-potassium diet. Sometime during the acute phase of Diana’s illness, Jo noticed that her daughter was holding her books too close to her face. Her optic nerve had been damaged, leaving her legally blind.
Diana is now 15, and her two conditions are in remission. (The Atlantic agreed to use only her and her mother’s first names to keep her health status private.) When the pandemic began, she was a straight-A student closing out her freshman year at a competitive magnet school in Manhattan. She was learning bass guitar to start a band with her friends. She used a white cane, took a fistful of medications morning and night, and was still cycling through the offices of about half a dozen doctors each year. But her medical visits and treatments had, for years, felt routine—background noise to her vibrant life.