A California model is suing Kotex for the loss of her leg after allegedly contracting toxic shock syndrome from one of its tampons. Lauren Wasser, 27, was using a Kotex Natural Balance tampon in October 2012 when she found herself en route to Santa Monica’s Saint John’s Health Center with a 107-degree temperature, “10 minutes from death,” according to Vice. She’d suffered a massive heart attack, hospital staff said, and her internal organs were shutting down. The likeliest culprit? Her tampon, which tested positive for TSS, a life-threatening disease caused by a toxin produced by certain types of Staphylococcus bacteria.
Wasser was placed in a medically induced coma as the toxins were flushed out of her system. The infection, however, turned into gangrene. Her right leg would need a below-the knee amputation.
TSS, as Vice tells it, isn’t something that only affects women who use tampons during their periods. It can also affect children, postmenopausal women, and men by occurring with skin infections, burns, and after surgery. Neither is a tampon alone enough to cause TSS. You must already have Staphylococcus present inside your body for the condition to manifest. Couple that with the synthetic fibers favored by the major tampon-makers, plus the product’s vaunted absorbency, and you have the perfect breeding ground for staph bacteria.
Wasser’s family has filed a lawsuit against Kimberly-Clark, the corporation which distributes Kotex, as well as the grocery stores Kroger and Ralph’s, where she purchased the tampons, for being “negligently, wantonly, recklessly, tortuously, and unlawfully responsible in some manner” for Wasser’s hospitalization.
This fall, Wasser says she hopes to appear before Congress with Carolyn Maloney, the New York congresswoman who is trying to pass a bill that would create a “program of research regarding the risks posed by the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, chemical fragrances, and other components of feminine-hygiene products.”
Meanwhile, Wasser wants tampons to be marketed with bigger, clearer warnings about their potential risks. “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.”