Lauren Wasser thought she’d caught the flu. She didn’t connect her symptoms to the tampons she’d bought earlier that day.
As The Sun reports, in 2012, the then-24-year-old model ran out of tampons and went to the store for more. She started to feel nauseous and achy as she texted friends about a birthday party that evening. And though she tried to attend the party, she looked so sick that her friends sent her home.
An exhausted and ill Wasser climbed into bed, only to be awakened by the police at the door and the frantic barking of her dog. In the video below, she told StyleLikeU:
“I came to and I could just hear pounding on the door and someone saying, ‘Police, police, open up.’ I was so confused and thinking, ‘Why are the police here?'”
The police officer took in the mess in the apartment and Wasser’s obvious illness, then told Wasser that she “really needed to call my mom because she is really worried about me.”
Wasser plugged in her phone and called her mother, promising to call again in the morning. Reassured by the fact that the police had just checked on her daughter, Wasser’s mother let her go. But when Wasser never called the next day, her mother called friends and police to get to her ailing daughter.
They may have gotten there just in time. Wasser told StyleLikeU:
“She called the police. They got to my apartment. It took them 30 minutes to get inside. They found me on my bedroom floor, face down. I had a 107F fever, all my kidneys were failing, I had a heart attack.”
Wasser was rushed to the hospital, where doctors and nurses puzzled over what could bring a healthy young woman so close to death. She told StyleLikeU that she was fortunate there was someone who knew to check for a tampon:
“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 didn’t understand why this young, healthy 24 year old girl was dying. And there was nothing I was being receptive to so they couldn’t figure it out.
They called the specialist down and he said, ‘Well does she have a tampon in?'”
The medical staff located and removed the tampon. Tests confirmed that it was positive for toxic shock syndrome.
As soon as the tampon was removed, Wasser began to become more receptive to treatment. She was put on life support as doctors induced a coma. But though she was now stable, Wasser’s mother was being prepared for the worst. She told StyleLikeU:
“They were telling my mom and my godfather that they should prepare my funeral and there was no way I’m going to walk out of there — that it would be a miracle.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening complication that comes from toxins produced by staph or strep bacteria. Often associated with super absorbent tampons, it can also be caused by contraceptive sponges, diaphragms, recent surgery, viral infections, and cuts or burns to the skin.
Symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include low blood pressure, a sudden high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, a sunburn-like rash, muscle aches, seizures, and headaches. The condition can lead to renal failure, shock, and death. If you have signs of toxic shock syndrome — especially if you have been using tampons or have an infection — see a medical professional immediately.
Though tampon manufacturers have changed the design and materials used in their products, the Mayo Clinic recommends using the lowest absorbency tampons possible. In addition, tampons should be changed every four to eight hours and alternated with sanitary napkins.
Even after Wasser woke from her coma, she was a long way from recovered. Her feet were swollen and burned terribly. She told StyleLikeU she learned she would lose one of her legs when she overheard a nurse in her hospital room speaking on the phone:
“There was a curtain there and there was a nurse. And I remember her speaking to someone from UCLA saying, ‘I have a 24-year-old girl here who is going to need a right leg below the knee amputation.”
Though she knew her legs were in bad shape, getting the news that one would be amputated in that way was, “surreal.” She cried as she remembered the moment with StyleLikeU:
“To hear that … I’m an athlete, I’m 24-years-old, I’m just a girl. You know, I had my whole life. My legs were my life. I didn’t want it to be true. I just kept crying and screaming and wanting my mom. And, ‘Please mom, don’t let them take my leg.'”
Under the circumstances, Wasser felt that being strong was the only option left to her, but it was still too painful to look at her blackened and gangrenous leg.
Then came the day when she signed the papers authorizing the hospital to take her leg. Wasser told StyleLikeU:
“It was so hard […] My mom kissing my leg. And they write ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on your legs, like, ‘Yes, this is the one that is going,’ and, ‘No, this is the one we are keeping.’ To see that visually on your leg and see my mom kissing my leg knowing that that’s the last time … it was crazy.”
Due to complications during surgery, Wasser couldn’t take pain medication immediately after the surgery. She said it was “hell” and regrets being so difficult to her mother during her recovery.
In fact, knowing that her little brother would be the one to find her if she gave in to the pain and committed suicide was one of the things that kept her from ending it all.
Now, Wasser has changed her entire outlook on who she is and what is important. She’s filed a lawsuit against the tampon manufacturer and the store that sold her the tampons, and she is working to raise awareness about toxic shock syndrome.
Most of all, she is no longer the judgmental person she used to be — the one who valued appearance more than anything. She says that from the moment she woke up from her coma, she became “a completely different person.”
Wasser is back to modeling again and even did a job for Nordstrom where her prosthetic leg got its own page. She says that while a part of her still misses what she had, she wouldn’t go back:
“My heart wouldn’t be full. I wouldn’t feel like I’m doing good. I wouldn’t feel like I’m making an impact in a positive way. I wouldn’t have known what that felt like. Because I didn’t do that before.”
Sara Vallone has been a writer and editor for the last four and a half years. A graduate of Ohio University, she enjoys celebrity news, sports, and articles that enhance people’s lives.