General Health

Model Loses Both Legs to Toxic Shock Syndrome Even After Changing Tampons Regularly

TRIGGER WARNING: Medical terminology, graphic descriptions, mention of suicide. Please read at your own discretion.

In 2012, then 24-year-old model Lauren Wasser began experiencing flu like symptoms and a high fever, despite adhering to regular tampon changes. Despite her efforts, her condition rapidly deteriorated. “I was changing my tampons every four hours,” Wasser recounts, “but it didn’t stop the symptoms.” This escalated into renal failure, followed by two heart attacks. After discovering she was suffering the life-threatening effects of toxic shock syndrome, Lauren had a one per cent chance of survival.

After failing to hear from her daughter for a while, Lauren’s mum initiated a welfare check. A responding police officer found her unconscious in her apartment, just moments away from death. Rushed to the hospital, she suffered two heart attacks and lapsed into a medically induced coma as her organs began to fail.

A Narrow Escape with Life Saving Measures

A week and a half later she woke with no knowledge of what had happened to her but found her body was significantly larger than her usual petite size. She had been pumped with 80 pounds (36 litres) of fluid in order to save her life.

I had just woken up from the coma. I was 200 lbs, pumped full of fluids to flush all the toxins out of my system. 

Recalling the critical juncture in her battle for survival, Lauren reflects, “They couldn’t figure out why this young, healthy 24-year-old girl was dying before them.” It wasn’t until an infectious disease specialist intervened that she received a diagnosis of TSS. “It was a nightmare,” she confesses.

Lauren says she was changing her tampons frequently, as advised by experts, yet she still contracted the illness which caused her body to start shutting down within hours, dispelling the myth that leaving them in for over eight hours is the root cause.

While she ultimately survived, the toll of TSS proved devastating. Gangrene had irreparably damaged her limbs, necessitating the amputation of her right leg below the knee and portions of her left foot. Despite attempts to salvage her remaining limb, Wasser’s left leg caused her excruciating pain for six years before she made the agonizing decision to amputate it as well, just before her 30th birthday.

“I was in a wheelchair for eight months with no right leg. They had to shave my head. My whole identity was completely stripped from me. I had to really rebuild from inside-out. I tried to commit suicide. I almost took my own life because I didn’t know that I would ever be what I was. I didn’t think I would ever be loved again. I didn’t know if anyone would ever look at me again.”

Now, more than a decade later, Lauren considers herself incredibly lucky. Named the girl with the golden legs due to her golden prosthetics, her never say never attitude has her training for the New York City Marathon and she regularly plays basketball.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

TSS is a rare and dangerous infection caused by certain types of bacteria, most notably Staphylococcus aureus (staph), Streptococcus pyogenes (strep).

Most commonly known to be caused by tampon use, it can also be contracted after surgery, by bacteria getting into open wounds, skin infections, from childbirth, or packing gauze to stem a nosebleed.

Woman holding a tampon - toxic shock syndrome warning

 


Lauren shares her story on the podcast

If you can take the time to watch, please do. This is a gamechanging story and she tells it so well! Thanks Lauren for being such an incredible advocate for our health and safety.

mum central

YouTube video


More Conversation is Needed

Now, at 36, Lauren has emerged as a vocal advocate for menstrual health and safety. “People think they’re invincible,” she warns, “but TSS can happen to anyone at any time.” Dismissing the misconception that TSS only arises from prolonged tampon use, Lauren stresses the need for informed conversations and greater scrutiny of menstrual product ingredients.

In a recent episode of the Life Uncut Podcast, Lauren says “People think they’re invincible, no one is off-limits. TSS can happen to anyone at any time.

“I’m not here to say what anyone should do,” Wasser asserts, “but I will say I’ve heard of women getting TSS from [menstrual cups] and everything.”

Her advocacy extends beyond personal cautionary tales to a broader call for transparency and accountability within the menstrual product industry.

As Wasser continues to raise awareness about TSS, she urges individuals to prioritise their health and seek informed choices in menstrual hygiene products. “Knowledge is key,” she emphasizes, “and it’s my mission to ensure that this information reaches as many people as possible.”

She went on to say that each time someone uses a tampon, it just takes once for the toxins to get inside your body. She claims while cotton tampons are better, they might still be sprayed with pesticides and other tampons on the market are possibly full of bleach dioxin and chlorine.

She goes on to say:

“It’s my goal and life mission to make sure that not only is this information out there but women have these conversations amongst each other, create the dialogue and check in with each other because knowledge is key.”

Lauren is now working with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to bring awareness to the issue and advocate for change.

What Are the Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

The symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the infection and the individual, but they often become severe very quickly. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, especially after surgery, a wound, or using tampons, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to avoiding serious complications.

According to Better Health the most common symptoms are:

  • High fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sunburn rash
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache or migraines.
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Redness in eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Peeling skin, particularly on the hands and feet
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity

Prevention is Better than Cure

TSS is a rare and dangerous infection caused by certain types of bacteria, most notably Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Clostridium sordellii (this is the one associated with menstruation).

Here are six ways to prevent toxic shock syndrome:

  1. Maintain Personal Hygiene : Ensure you maintain personal hygiene during your period.
  2. Wash Hands Before and After Insertion: Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting a tampon.
  3. Use Tampons Properly:  Be gentle when inserting and removing tampons. Do not handle the tampon more than you need to, and only unwrap it if you’re going to use it immediately. Use lube when on your first and last days, and when your flow is light to prevent abrasions.
  4. Choose the Right Tampon:  – Avoid using super-absorbent tampons. Do not wear tampons when you do not have your period. Change tampons regularly, at least every four hours.
  5. Select Appropriate Alternatives: Use pads (sanitary napkins) instead of tampons overnight. Consider using pads or panty liners during the last day or so of your period when your flow is light.
  6. Avoid Applicator Tampons: Avoid tampons with applicators, as they may scrape the vaginal walls.

As yet, there are no clinical trials of menstrual cups or discs in relation to TSS.

The average tampon user can use around 10,000 or more tampons in their lifetime, and they have been in existence in one form or another for thousands of years (ancient tampons were not for the faint of heart). The ones we know and use today have been around since 1931, but there is still a stigma around menstruation, even between people who get periods. And there is still a lack of regulation for tampons in many countries.

It’s this grey area of communication that leads to misinformation and not enough information. Lauren Wasser is trying to change this. She says, paraphrasing Dr. Philip Tierno, Director of Microbiology & Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, “If men’s dicks fell off, this never would have happened to me.” She adds, “That’s always what I say. It’s because we’re women. We have to fight for everything.”

Lauren has returned to modelling and is carving a lane that doesn’t exist. She says she isn’t embarrassed by her reality anymore and “There’s no reason I should be here—medically, or in general. This is my purpose.”

What to read next 

Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

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