After Toxic Shock Syndrome Claimed Her Legs, Lauren Wasser Set About Reshaping The Fashion Industry
After Toxic Shock Syndrome Claimed Her Legs, Lauren Wasser Set About Reshaping The Fashion Industry

After Toxic Shock Syndrome Claimed Her Legs, Lauren Wasser Set About Reshaping The Fashion Industry

As the child of two models, Pamela Cook and Robert Wasserburger, growing up in California in the early 1990s, my world up until that point had been defined by rare beauty. I was surrounded by the faces of the time: Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell. In hindsight, I realise how unusual my childhood was, but back then it was all I knew. It wasn’t long before I started to follow in my parents’ footsteps: I booked my first modelling job at just two-months-old, alongside my mother in Italian Vogue. But as I got older, I found a passion for athletics, too – basketball was my true love. Everything I wanted, I was continually told, was at my fingertips.

And so when I woke up from a medically induced coma in that Santa Monica hospital room one day in early October 2012, in excruciating pain, it wasn’t just that I was unrecognisable: I had been stripped of my entire identity, of the beauty and body that, I thought then, had made me me. I had been found unresponsive at home, having suffered a fever of almost 42C, my kidneys failing. I had had two heart attacks and was given just a one per cent chance of survival. When I came round a week-and-a-half later, after being placed on life support, I was pumped full of fluid, I weighed 200 pounds, my hair was so matted that my head had been shaved, and my legs were black with gangrene. It was only when I overheard a nurse saying they would need to amputate a young woman that I realised she was talking about me.

I left hospital three months later in a wheelchair and back at home, shell-shocked, tried to come to terms with my new reality. For eight months, I would wheel myself into my bathroom and sit on a stool in the shower screaming at God, wondering why and how this happened. I didn’t think I would be loved again, I didn’t think I would be wanted – I definitely didn’t think the fashion world would ever accept me.

For a time, in my darkest moments, I was suicidal. I had to force myself to dig deep to see that beauty isn’t just found in the physical, it’s how we affect others and the world. Eventually, I came to understand that prosthetics were my route to a more independent life, but seeing the stiff, medical-looking limbs that were available, I struggled to see how I would make them me. To move forwards, I knew I had to create something that fit with my identity. I have always loved gold, so I decided to make my legs a jewellery piece, to consciously make something that people look at and are fascinated by. The result is, I believe, something close to art.

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