On October 3, 2012, 24-year-old model Lauren Wasser was feeling a little off—she was also on her period, and using her go-to brand of tampons. Within just 48 hours, Vice details, she was found by a friend and a police officer face down on her bedroom floor, having suffered a heart attack and with a temperature of 107 degrees putting her around 10 minutes from death. Rushed to the hospital, doctors were at a loss to explain the cause of her condition, until an infectious disease specialist was called in, and asked the key question: “Does she have a tampon in?”
Doctors sent the tampon away for testing, and the results showed that Wasser was suffering from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—a rare complication of bacterial infections, typically stemming from staph bacteria, and occasionally from strep. Wasser was placed in a medically induced coma, with family and friends told to prepare for the worst. Eventually she recovered, but not before suffering agonizing pain from gangrene, which ultimately lead to the amputation of her right leg below the knee.
Wasser’s mother, meanwhile, prepped a lawsuit against the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, who produce and distribute Kotex Natural Balance tampons, the brand that Lauren Wasser was using, alleging that the warning labels regarding TSS are not clear enough. Anyone who has ever used tampons is likely to have seen these labels—typically they suggest that one change a tampon every 4-8 hours, including overnight. Speaking to Vice, Lauren’s lawyer, Hunter J. Shkolnik argues that “[Tampon companies] should be telling you, ‘Don’t sleep in it. Use a pad.'”
TSS was first formally recognized in 1978, and has continued to be a risk for tampon users due to the materials used in contemporary products. As Vice explains “over the past 50 or so years, their composition has changed from natural ingredients like cotton to synthetic ingredients like rayon and plastic, especially among the big tampon manufacturers—Playtex, Tampax, Kotex. These synthetic fibers, along with a tampon’s absorbency, can form an ideal environment for staph bacteria to flourish.”
Meanwhile, Lauren’s life has been permanently altered: “You know cigarettes can kill you, so when you use them, it’s your choice,” she says. “Had I known all the info about TSS, I would never have used tampons.”
Read the whole story at Vice