In 2012, Lauren Wasser had her right leg amputated after being diagnosed with the rare disease Toxic Shock Syndrome. Now, the 29-year-old model says she will “inevitably” lose her other leg.
Since undergoing surgery five years ago, Wasser has made it her mission to spread awareness about the multisystem disease. With her 42.6k followers on Instagram, she has the potential to reach audiences far and wide. “I think this is my purpose and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Lauren tells The Washington Post. The outlet reports that Wasser has been promoting legislation that would force the NIH to assess various feminine hygiene products’ safety.
Read on to learn more about model, activist, and TSS survivor, Lauren Wasser.
1. She Lost Her Leg In 2012 Because of Toxic Shock Syndrome
When she began to experience flu-like symptoms in 2012, Wasser did not think to attribute the pain to Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS. Describing the symptoms to Darling Magazine, she said, “For me, I’d been using the same product for 11 years. My period is very heavy and, like I said earlier, I’m an athlete. So I’d be constantly working out, riding my bike thirty miles and changing my tampon more frequently than usual. That morning I’d ran out of my go-to box of tampons so I went to a local store, got a new box and changed it as normal. The flu had been going around, so once I felt a little weird I just assumed I was coming down with it because I had flu-like symptoms. I’m [also] just that type where, you know, if you’re getting sick I thought I could handle it.”
It was only a matter of time before she would wake up in a medically-induced coma. The infection turned into gangrene, and doctors had no choice but to amputate. According to Darling Magazine, Wasser’s physicians pumped 80 lb of fluid into her body, and gave her a 1% chance of survival.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Wasser explains that after she learned she’d need a below-the-knee amputation, she “just lost it.”
“I screamed and cried,” she said. “I’m an athlete — my legs were everything. I had no idea what my life would be like without them.”
2. She Is a Model & Appeared in ‘Italian Vogue’ with Her Mom
In her interview with Darling Magazine, Wasser says that she has been modeling since she was four months old, and even appeared in Italian Vogue with her mother.
“My parents were both models and I kind of grew up in the world of perfection. My mom was one of the supermodels in the early 90s when it was really the dope time to be an ‘It Girl,’ so I was around Stephanie Seymour and Cindy Crawford and my mom was a VS girl. I grew up really knowing only one side of beauty.”
In a self-written piece for In Style, Lauren chronicles how she came to learn about her diagnosis, and the role her mother played in it. She says that when she started to feel sick back in 2012, she didn’t respond to any of her mother’s messages, which made her incredibly worried. “…I didn’t respond to any of her messages. Concerned, she called the police asking for a welfare check. I remember coming to and hearing the sound of my cocker spaniel, Madison, barking out of control.” The police agreed to check on Lauren once more, and when they did, they found Lauren face down on the floor. Wasser writes, “I was unresponsive, had a fever of 108, and was covered in my own feces and vomit. They immediately called the paramedics and rushed me to the hospital.”
3. She Reportedly Filed a Lawsuit Against Kotex and the Supermarket Who Sold Her Tampons
As of 2015, according to the Daily Mail, Lauren was pursuing a lawsuit against Kotex and the supermarket who sold her the tampons. The outlet writes, “By filing suit, the family’s legal team also wants to create awareness about the use of synthetic materials throughout the tampon industry, and to make women aware of the dangers of TSS.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, the lawsuit argued that the grocery stores where Lauren bought the products were “negligently, wantonly, recklessly, tortuously, and unlawfully responsible in some manner.”
The Chicago Tribune recently asked Lauren about the lawsuit, and she said she “couldn’t comment”. The Kimberly-Clark Corp., who manufactures and distributes Kotex tampons, told the outlet that the “matter has been resolved.”
4. She Says Her Other Leg May Need to Be Amputated in the Coming Months
Despite the fact that her right leg and the toes on her left foot have already been amputated, Wasser continues to feel pain each day.
She tells The Washington Post she’s “inevitably” going to have her other leg amputated in the coming months. According to the outlet, she requires weekly treatments because of the damage to her left foot.
According to statistics obtained by USA Today, TSS affects 1 in 100,000 women each year. While women are generally instructed to change their tampon every eight hours, gynecologist Jessica Shepherd says leaving a tampon in for 8-12 hours can increase the possibility of infection, and of contracting TSS.
“In general, if you leave a tampon in for too long it can create a breeding ground for bacteria and can increase risk of yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or possibly TSS,” Shepherd tells USA Today. “For some women it comes down to a hygienic issue of making sure you change as often as possible.”
5. Lauren’s Girlfriend Is a Photographer and Took Photos of Her During Recovery
In her piece for In Style, Lauren writes that after the surgery, she fell into depression. “I melted into my bed, and life just sort of stopped.”
Her girlfriend, photographer Jennifer Rovero, then began taking pictures of her with her amputations. Lauren says that’s when things started to change. “The process was a sort of therapy for me, which Jennifer coined as ‘photo therapy.’ I grew to see the beauty and strength in myself and my journey through the lens of her camera. While we were shooting, we often asked young girls if they have ever heard of TSS or if they believed that it’s real. The majority of them said no.”
Through the experience, Rovero has also become an activist, too. Her Instagram bio reads, “Phototherapy •Activist – T.S.S. / Body Positivity •MGMT ~Partnered with my ❤️ Lauren Wasser raising awareness!~ #itsnotrareitsreal camraface.com”
Lauren writes that Jennifer is also the person who introduced her to a platform (that has since closed down) called You Are Loved. Wasser writes, “This was a website created by Lisa Elifritz, a mother who’s 20-year-old daughter Amy lost her life to TSS only two years before it almost took mine. Lisa had created this website to not only share her daughter’s story but to help educate women and young girls about the dangers tampons can have.”