A 24-year-old model who nearly died after testing positive for toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is suing the tampon manufacturer as well as the grocery store where she purchased them in the hopes of raising awareness and changing the packaging’s warning label.
Lauren Wasser, a 5’11” model who had to have her leg amputated as a result of TSS, was using Kotex Natural Balance in October 2012 when she began feeling like something wasn’t right, VICE reported.
“I tried to act normal,” Wasser told VICE of a party she had attended. “Everyone was like, ‘Dude you look horrible.’”
Wasser drove herself home to sleep and was woken up by a welfare check sent by her worried mother. She told VICE she doesn’t remember how long she had been asleep for, and called her mother who asked if she needed an ambulance. Wasser told her mother no, and the next day was found face down on the bedroom floor.
Wasser was rushed to Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., where doctors found she had a 107-degree fever and feared she was close to death. An infectious disease specialist was called in and asked if she had a tampon in, which was then sent to the lab for testing. Results came back positive for TSS, VICE reported.
Doctors put Wasser into a medically induced coma and told her mother to begin preparing to arrange for her funeral. When she woke, she had no idea what had happened.
“My belly was huge. I had tubes everywhere. I couldn’t speak,” Wasser told VICE. “I thought maybe I had overdosed on food. I had no clue what was happening.” Wasser also recalled burning sensations in her hands and feet, which was a result of the infection developing into gangrene. She was transferred to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
While Wasser was receiving treatment, and preparing for a below-the-knee amputation on her right leg, her mother began preparing a lawsuit involving tampon manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Corporation, as well as Kroger and Ralph’s grocery stores, which carry Kotex Natural Balance Tampons – Wasser’s go-to brand.
“I wish I could say [Laurent’s case] shocked me, but it doesn’t,” Hunter J. Shkolnik, Wasser’s lawyer, told VICE. “The tampon has not been changed since the day of the original TSS epidemic. All they did was put on the label, ‘Oh you can get toxic shock.’ The material has gone unchanged for decades.”
Wasser’s team argues that the warning labels currently on tampon boxes are not clear enough, specifically the language referring to “overnight” use. The warnings indicate that tampons should not be used for more than an eight-hour period. “[Tampon companies] should be telling you ‘Don’t sleep in it. Use a pad,” Shkolnik told VICE.
‘Part of our job is to show the jury that it’s not about the warning on the box – it’s about the fact that they’ve had materials available for 30 years that could make [tampons] safer, and they’ve chosen not to use them. They call these tampons ‘natural,’ when in fact it’s the man-made materials that make them dangerous,” he told VICE.
Waser told VICE she wants tampons to be marketed with bigger, clearing warning about potential risks.
“You know cigarettes can kill you, so when you use them, it’s your choice,” she said. “Had I known all the info about TSS, I would have never used tampons.”