This Model Lost A Leg To Toxic Shock Syndrome—And Now She Might Lose The Other
By Korin Miller | Originally Published December 20 on Women’s Health Mag | Featuring Dr. Sherry Ross
Model Lauren Wasser contracted toxic shock syndrome (TSS) from a tampon in 2012 when she was 24—and she lost her leg because of it.
Lauren told StyleLikeU that the day she developed TSS was pretty normal. She bought tampons in the morning and used one after she got home. Then, she spent the rest of the day relaxing at home before getting ready for a birthday party that night. But she started to feel sick with flu-like symptoms including having a headache, nausea, and fever. Still, she decided to try to go to the party. But once she got there, her friends sent her home because she looked so sick.
She was eventually rushed to the hospital. “I had a 107-degree fever, my kidneys were failing, I had a heart attack,” she said. “Thank God there was an infectious disease doctor there [at the hospital] because as soon as they found me, I was plummeting so bad they couldn’t understand why a healthy, young 24-year-old like me was dying.” After the doctors found and removed her tampon, she started responding better to treatment, but she was put into a medically-induced coma and given antibiotics to try to get rid of the bacteria. Part of her right leg and the toes in her left leg were removed to try to save her life.
She says she saw doctors write “yes” on one leg before her surgery and “no” on the other. “Like ‘yes,’ this is the one that’s going and ‘no,’ this is the one that we’re keeping,” she said. “And to see that visually on your leg, and then my mom kissing my leg and knowing that’s the last time, it was crazy.”
TSS is caused by exposure to the staphylococcus bacteria, which releases toxins into the blood stream. Those toxins can then spread throughout a person’s body and organs, causing damage. While it’s possible to get TSS from other causes like cuts and having had surgery recently, 74 percent of the TSS cases in the U.S. between 1979 and 1996 were linked to tampon use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, TSS overall is rare.
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Lauren tells The Washington Post that she’s still in “excruciating pain” every day and she thinks she’s “inevitably” going to have to have her left leg amputated as well. But, she says, “it is what it is.”
TSS is an “extremely rare” complication, but it does happen, says Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. Not all TSS cases will end up in an amputation but again, it can happen. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, complications from TSS can cause the amputation of a person’s fingers, toes, or limbs.
While you shouldn’t panic about TSS, it’s important to be aware that there is a small risk with tampon use, Ross says. To protect yourself, she recommends changing your tampons regularly (i.e. every four to eight hours) regardless of how heavy or light your flow is, and using the lowest absorbency tampon. You might even want to consider alternating between tampons and pads when your flow is light to drop your risk even further, she says.
Now, Lauren is pushing for women to be better educated about TSS and tells The Post that she hopes other women will “be more aware of what they’re putting inside their bodies.”