LA-based model Lauren Wasser, age 35, almost died after a tampon gave her Toxic Shock Syndrome. As a result of TSS, she had both her legs amputated but survived to tell the tale of her near-death experience. Sharing her story and the impact of the traumatizing experience on Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO Podcast.
Lauren first started feeling symptoms of the flu. Little did she know these flu-like symptoms would soon lead to a severe heart attack. She then went on life support, and gangrene started taking over both legs. As a result, both legs were amputated below the knee.
After the harrowing experience, Lauren Wasser made it her life mission to warn young girls and women about the possible risks and side effects of using tampons. She promotes legislation for further transparency in the sale of feminine hygiene products.
In 2012, Wasser was 24 years old. At the time, she had rejected the offer of a full basketball scholarship at a prestigious university in order to pivot to her passion — a career in fashion.
But she never could have guessed what would happen next. After feeling unwell and thinking she was sick with a bad cold or flu, she was discovered just minutes from death in her apartment. Facedown and completely unconscious, covered in her own vomit and feces.
Her mother called the police when she didn’t hear from her daughter, and thank goodness a wellness check was completed because the advocate could have lost her life if nobody found her.
Her fever skyrocketed to 107 degrees at the hospital, culminating in a heart attack and organ failure. Doctors then placed her in a medically-induced coma. After being sent to an infectious disease specialist, staff was sent to check if she had a tampon inside of her.
When the test was done, it was determined that she officially had TSS, otherwise known as toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare bacterial infection that can be seriously life-threatening when contracted. TSS is often misdiagnosed since it can resemble more common illnesses like the flu, as we can see in Lauren Wasser’s case.
Although she was fortunate to live to tell the tale, the damage from the gangrene in her legs was irreversible. Both legs needed to be amputated if she wanted to survive. When interviewed on the podcast, Lauren explained that it felt like her feet were being lit on fire, creating an extremely painful burning sensation.
She added, “My right leg was worse than my left, my toes on my left were turning purple but my right side, there was a lot more damage, you could tell. So then the concern came in that basically they needed to amputate my right leg to save my life or I was going to die.”
She discovered the news by overhearing a nurse’s conversation. After leaving the hospital, Wasser spent eight months in a wheelchair, reliving her trauma daily and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Although they initially managed to save her left leg, the next six years caused major pain, and ultimately, that leg was amputated as well, right before her 30th birthday.
Since her accident, Lauren has spent much of her time raising TSS awareness and advocating for those who use menstrual products and must be properly educated about the risks. Tampons often contain dioxin, chlorine bleach, and synthetic fibers, which aren’t the best for our bodies.
Wasser has been working to pass bills and has also collaborated with Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to pass legislation that requires manufacturers to list every ingredient on feminine hygiene product packaging.
Her fashion career has also continued to thrive despite her challenges. She’s starred in campaigns for the likes of Furla, Shiseido, and Lacoste, getting the name of the “Girl with the Golden Legs” in the industry as her prosthetics are gold.
TSS occurs when certain bacteria that typically exist outside the skin (Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus) enter the bloodstream and produce fatal toxins. It occurs in around one in 100,000 women and can manifest in symptoms like vomiting, seizures, disorientation, low blood pressure, and a high fever.
Although menstrual products come with a warning not to wear a tampon for over eight hours, Lauren Wasser regularly changed her, so that window isn’t a time guarantee. Awareness and education are key to avoiding this terrifying and life-threatening disease.