As a model, Lauren Wasser is accustomed to turning heads, and now she’s turning even more of them, everywhere she goes.
Lauren (32) lost both her legs to toxic shock syndrome, which was caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, as a result of using a superabsorbent tampon.
Now she has two gold-coloured prosthetic legs which she wears on the streets of New York City, at the beach, and on the runway.
Surviving toxic shock syndrome and the amputation of her legs was a nightmarish experience, but Lauren is using it to her advantage, and to help others. “A fire lit inside of my heart that didn't exist before," she says, of wanting to educate and inform others about the rare syndrome that nearly took her life in 2012, when she was 24 years old.
It began with flu-like symptoms – and then she had a massive heart attack. Police found her unconscious in her apartment, covered in her own excrement. She was rushed to hospital and put in a medically induced coma to save her life, as her blood pressure was unstable and her organs were shutting down.
“It wasn’t until the infectious diseases doctor was called in that things started to make sense,” Lauren shared in an essay in InStyle.
“He knew I came into the emergency room wearing a tampon, so he immediately sent it to the lab for testing. Three days later the results came back with signs of TSS-1 (toxic shock syndrome).”
She spent 10 days on life support as doctors focused on saving her organs. Then her blood circulation to her limbs became a problem too.
“I remember my feet feeling like they were constantly on fire,” she says. “The fight was on to save my legs. Unfortunately, gangrene developed in my right leg and was moving quickly.”
Her right leg was amputated below the knee.
A deep depression followed for Lauren, whose life had been focused on her appearance and looking confident on runways and fashion shoots. Now she was an amputee, confined to a wheelchair.
Her photographer girlfriend, Jennifer Rovero, helped her heal by taking pictures of her. “I grew to see the beauty and strength in myself and my journey through the lens of her camera,” she said at the time. Jennifer, Lauren recounted, reminded her of who she used to be and what she used to love, and encouraged her to wear shorts that showed off her prosthetic.
“I was hiding in [summertime] in hoodies and sweatshirts, and I would walk around and make sure I’d walk with no limp, because I didn’t want anyone to tell that I didn’t have a leg,” she said. The moment she wore shorts made her feel beautiful again. “[It] released me of what I was hiding from.” Jennifer’s photography “allowed me to see that I wasn’t what I thought I was because I hated myself”.
She returned to modelling in 2015, and went on to star in the TV show Loudermilk in 2017, and she and Jennifer have been fighting to spread awareness about TSS disease and to enact change in Congress to pass a bill for safer tampon products.
“It is time that we, as consumers, demand safer products and more transparency about what is going into our bodies,” says Lauren who faced more tragedy in 2019 when, after complications, her left leg was also amputated.
And while at one time her life felt like it was over, she’s gone on to appear in Rihanna’s 2019 Savage Fenty fashion show and continues to book jobs with leading brands in the US.
“I’m ready to just flourish, travel, jump in the ocean and just be a normal human being. My 20s were pretty painful. I think getting rid of my leg was getting rid of the past and getting ready for my journey ahead.”
A rare but serious medical condition, TSS is caused by bacteria which gets into the bloodstream and produces deadly toxins in the body.
While the common belief is that the rare syndrome is mainly related to the use of tampons as they can attract the bacteria, it can also be caused by skin burns, skin infections, or surgery. “Infection usually occurs when bacteria enter your body through an opening in your skin, such as a cut, sore, or other wound,” according to Healthline.com.
Common symptoms include:
- low blood pressure
- muscle aches
SOURCES: INSTYLE.COM, HEALTHLINE.COM; MEDIUM.COM; INSIDER.COM; REFINERY29.COM