Lauren Wasser, a 27-year-old California model, contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) from a tampon when she was only 24. While TSS is rare — today it only affects one out of every 100,000 people — it can be a deadly bacterial infection. In Lauren's case, TSS caused her to suffer a massive heart attack, and eventually led to gangrene in her leg which then needed to be amputated.
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While Lauren was still in the hospital, her mother began hitting the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, the manufacturer of the Kotex tampon she used, and the store chain from which she purchased it with a huge lawsuit. According to Vice, the lawsuit states that the two companies are "negligently, wantonly, recklessly, tortuously and unlawfully responsible in some manner" for what happened to her. It also claims that the warnings on the side of the tampon box aren't clear. The disclaimer on the box simply states, "change your tampon every four to eight hours, including overnight." The family plans to argue that the "including overnight" suggests it's OK to leave the tampon in for longer than eight hours, which is what Lauren did.
The incident that led to this lawsuit happened back in October of 2012. Lauren felt like she might have the flu, but did not consider that could have anything to do with her period. She picked up tampons from her local Ralph's grocery store, and got ready to go out for the night. She claims she had been changing her tampon every three to four hours that day. She started to feel really sick when she was out at a party, and decided to drive home to sleep.
A few hours later, she woke up to her dog barking and police banging on her door — her mom had called in a welfare check, because she hadn't heard from her daughter. However, the police officer didn't seem to think anything was wrong, so he left, and Lauren went back to sleep. The next day, her mom sent a friend and another police officer over, and they found her face down on the floor with 107 degree fever.
Lauren was rushed to the hospital, where they say she was 10 minutes from death. She had suffered a massive heart attack, and her organs were shutting down. At first, the doctors didn't know what to make of it, so they called a disease specialist in who immediately thought a latent tampon was the culprit. Needless to say, he was right, and the tests on it came back positive for TSS.
TSS caused a number of deaths back in the 1980s due to the absorbent, synthetic materials found particularly in Procter & Gamble's Rely tampon. A study conducted at Yale stated, "the gelled carboxymethylcellulose" in Rely tampons "acted like agar in a petri dish, providing a viscous medium on which the bacteria could grow."
Lauren's lawyer, Hunter J. Shkolnik, told Vice that tampons today are no different than they were back then. "The tampon has not been changed since the day of the original TSS epidemic. All they did was put on the label, 'Oh, you can get toxic shock.' The material has gone unchanged for decades." He says tampon companies get around the FDA by slapping these vague warnings on their boxes.
Lauren was put into a medically induced coma after the heart attack, but when she woke up, another problem presented itself — the TSS had led to gangrene in her leg. She said she felt an indescribably painful burning sensation in hands and feet. The doctors put her in a hyperbaric chamber to try to stop the infection, but it had already spread. She'd have to lose her leg.
Today, Lauren is missing her right leg below the knee, and her left toes. Her life has been completely altered by this ordeal. She told Vice, "You live your whole life and think, 'I'm an athlete' or 'I'm a pretty girl' but this was something physical that I had no control over. "It took me a while to figure out if I was still worthy, if I was still pretty."
Lauren is slowly recovering emotionally and physically, but it's a never-ending road filled with pain, surgery and disability. This fall, she plans to stand before Congress with New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, who is trying to pass the Robin Danielson Act, named after a woman who died of TSS in 1998. The act would "establish a program of research regarding the risks posed by the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, chemical fragrances and other components of feminine hygiene products."
Lauren says if she had known the risks of TSS, she never would've used synthetic tampons.
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