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The Leishman family.

Sepsis and Toxic Shock Syndrome: Awareness Can Save Lives

As a child of the ’80s, I grew up hearing about toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but potentially deadly complication often associated with super absorbent tampons. When it was my time to choose, I still chose a tampon.

Over the years, we stopped hearing about TSS. Tampons continued to be the preferred choice by most women. They are praised for their convenience and the freedom they give. Most mothers have stopped talking to their daughters about toxic shock. It is widely considered a thing of the past. The few stories that do make the news are often the horror stories of women forgetting and leaving them inserted for days or weeks.

In 2015, I suffered from TSS and septic shock, following an intrauterine device removal and subsequent use of a tampon. I spent five days in a medically induced coma and was given less than a 5% chance of survival. I am one of the lucky ones and I feel that it is my responsibility to give a voice for those who were not.

TSS has happened in less than two hours of using regular absorbency tampons. Just ask Lisa Elifritz, who in 2010 lost her 21-year-old daughter, Amy. Amy Elifritz only used regular tampons and her family used to tease her about how often she would change them. In 2012, Lauren Wasser, an aspiring model, also suffered from TSS. She had been taught from age 13 to change her tampon every 3-4 hours and always changed it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. What she thought was a case of the flu turned into a medically induced coma with 1% chance to live. She survived but is now a double amputee and is known as the model with golden legs.

March 27, 2017, was Maddy Massabni’s 19th birthday. She died on the bathroom floor in her mother’s arms after feeling unwell that day and eventually having a heart attack. We had the honor of having her mother, Dawn, speak at the Begin Again Foundation gala in 2019. Dawn tearfully spoke of her heartbreak and regret that she was unaware of the dangers of conventional tampons and is currently campaigning the FDA to make the TSS warning big and bold on boxes.

A few months after Dawn spoke, I received a message from one of the guests at the gala. She told me that after hearing Maddy’s story she spoke to her own teenage daughter about toxic shock. Her daughter, a freshman in college, recognized the symptoms in her roommate and told her to go to the emergency department. She was diagnosed with toxic shock and was told she was extremely lucky to have caught it early.

It is the year 2023 and women do not and should not have to die from TSS. There are many safer alternatives such as pads, period panties, menstrual cups, and 100% organic tampons. That’s why the Begin Again Foundation has established our Period Planners program, to educate communities on TSS and provide women facing housing insecurity with safe feminine hygiene products.

As a former tampon user, I wish one thing more than anything else: I wish that I knew the symptoms so that I could have sought treatment sooner. It’s a simple as this: Awareness saves lives.

About Audrey Leishman

Audrey Leishman_Guest CHKD Blog AuthorAudrey was born in Naples, Italy and moved to Virginia Beach at four years old. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in government and psychology. Audrey and her husband Marc founded the Begin Again Foundation in 2015. Audrey lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and their three children, Harvey, Ollie and Eva.

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About CHKD Guest Blogger

About CHKD  Guest Blogger From time-to-time CHKD will invite someone from outside of our organization who is an expert in their field to share important information with our readers. From pediatric health news to parenting advice, our guest bloggers bring new perspective and fresh content to our readers.