VIDEO: WHAT LEGACY WILL YOU LEAVE BEHIND? | LAUREN WASSER | TEDxLausanneWomen * 2024
VIDEO: WHAT LEGACY WILL YOU LEAVE BEHIND? | LAUREN WASSER | TEDxLausanneWomen * 2024

Wasser is breaking new ground in the industry

“I feel like I have a job to do. I want to see women being protected, and I want what happened to me to never happen to another soul again,” says Lauren Wasser. Ten years ago to this day, the model came down with toxic shock syndrome, which eventually caused her to undergo a double leg amputation – “I could have been in the ground for 10 years now. But here I am, and I feel like I’m on top of the world.”

She was rushed to the hospital with a high temperature; her internal organs had begun to shut down and she had suffered a heart attack. By the time she was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome (TSS), she had only a one percent chance of survival. The infection caused her legs to become gangrenous, and she was put into a medically induced coma.

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When she woke up, disorientated, the ordeal was far from over

“There was a moment when I was by myself in hospital and everyone who had come to visit me had left my room – my mum, my godfather, everyone,” she remembers, “and I heard the nurse speaking on the phone behind the curtain, saying, ‘I have a 24-year-old girl here who’s going to need a right leg below-the-knee amputation.’ That was the first time I ever heard the word ‘amputation’ in reference to myself. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I cried and screamed for my mum to not allow it to happen.” At the time, her doctors had recommended amputating both legs, but there was a 50 per cent chance her left leg could be saved, so she took the risk.

While doctors had initially salvaged her left leg, it caused her so much pain in the six years that followed that she had no choice but to have it amputated too, just before she turned 30. “I didn’t have any toes and my heel was so severely damaged, I had to go to the clinic every Monday. I just wasn’t living,” she says. “I’m an athlete, I want to be a mum, and I just wanted to be able to be free and be able to sit down and not have excruciating pain. I made that decision for the rest of my life, to be able to live the life that I know I deserve.”

TSS is a toxic shock syndrome that Lauren Wasser suffered from a tampon

TSS is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacterial infections. It can be triggered by the use of tampons, though a person must already have the bacteria present in their body to develop it. There has been a surge in TSS-related deaths in women, since the composition of most sanitary products changed from natural fibres to synthetic, providing bacteria with an environment to thrive in. Studies now suggest TSS affects three women of reproductive age out of 100,000 every year.

Symptoms may include fever, rash, skin peeling, and low blood pressure. There may also be symptoms related to the specific underlying infection such as mastitis, osteomyelitis, necrotising fasciitis, or pneumonia.

TSS is typically caused by bacteria of the Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus type, though others may also be involved. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is sometimes referred to as toxic-shock-like syndrome (TSLS). The underlying mechanism involves the production of superantigens during an invasive streptococcus infection or a localized staphylococcus infection. Risk factors for the staphylococcal type include the use of very absorbent tampons, skin lesions in young children characterized by fever, low blood pressure, rash, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and multiorgan failure. Diagnosis is typically based on symptoms.

Treatment includes intravenous fluids, antibiotics, incision, and drainage of any abscesses, and possibly intravenous immunoglobulin. The need for rapid removal of infected tissue via surgery in those with a streptococcal cause, while commonly recommended, is poorly supported by the evidence. Some recommend delaying surgical debridement. The overall risk of death is about 50% in streptococcal disease, and 5% in staphylococcal disease. Death may occur within 2 days.

In the United States, streptococcal TSS occurs in about 3 per 100,000 per year, and staphylococcal TSS in about 0.5 per 100,000 per year. The condition is more common in the developing world. It was first described in 1927. Due to the association with very absorbent tampons, these products were removed from sale.

Lauren Wasser, lost her legs to toxic shock syndrome * Todo lo relacionado