In 2012, model Lauren Wasser had her right leg amputated after suffering toxic shock syndrome caused by a tampon.
Now, she says it’s “inevitable” that her left leg will be amputated also, and she’s determined to warn young women about the dangers of using tampons.
“Every time I turn on the TV it infuriates me,” the 29-year-old model wrote in a first-person column for InStyle. “You’ll see an ad for Advil or Viagra and hear some monotonous voice warn you about even the smaller side effects like headaches or nausea. When you see a tampon commercial, it’s all happy teenage girls running along the beach in bikinis. The dangers are beyond minimised.”
According to the government website Health Direct, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is caused by bacteria – the same bacteria responsible for staph infections.
The infection can arise after leaving a tampon in too long, or not your washing hands before inserting a tampon. The bacteria releases toxins into the bloodstream and sends the body into shock. Wasser said she began feeling unwell soon after inserting a tampon and, though she changed her tampon regularly the day she began to get sick, the damage was already done.
“The vagina is the most absorbent part of a woman’s body, and you place a tampon in that place that can bring with it chemicals, toxins,” she wrote.
LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss the best ‘period undies’ for any woman to buy. Post continues after.
Wasser was rushed to hospital after police barged into her apartment and found her non-responsive on the bathroom floor in 2012.
Speaking to The Sun earlier this week, she said it was lucky there was an infectious diseases expert at the hospital who knew to check her tampon for TSS.
“I had a 41 degree celsius fever, my kidneys were failing, I had a heart attack,” she said. “They were telling my mum and my godfather to start preparing my funeral because there was no way I was walking out of there – it would have been a miracle.”
Wasser was put into an induced coma for more than a week to receive blood transfusions. She said the amputation of her right leg was necessary because her feet had been deprived of oxygen during treatment.
“I remember my feet feeling like they were constantly on fire,” Wasser wrote for InStyle. “Unfortunately, gangrene developed in my right leg and was moving quickly. My heel on my left side was severely damaged, and so were all five toes. Doctors said there was a 50/50 chance of saving my left foot. The surgeons recommended amputating both legs at that time, but I decided to fight and save my left leg.”
Now, the damage in her left leg is reaching a point where it’s unmanageable, also.
“I grew up playing basketball, but I haven’t been able to run in five years,” she wrote. “I’m in daily excruciating pain. I have a golden leg that I am completely proud of, but my left foot has an open ulcer, no heel, and no toes.”
She says she wants to live again and go swimming and walk freely without pain. For this to happen, her left leg must be amputated. At the moment, she can’t get it wet because of the open ulcers and regularly needs to have the bone shaved back because her body keeps producing calcium.
As she faces this harrowing ordeal, Wasser is determined to continue raising awareness about the dangers of tampons and is campaigning for greater transparency on behalf of manufacturers.
“What I can do is help make sure that this doesn’t happen to others,” she wrote. “It is crucial that consumers know the reality of what could happen to them. It is time that we, as consumers, demand safer products and more transparency about what is going into our bodies.”