How One Tampon Caused An Organ Failure

Peyton Caples is an eighteen-year-old student from Ventura, California. She is finishing up her first year of college majoring in anthropology and is interested in film photography. In 2013, Peyton’s organs started to fail after using a tampon for a few hours and got diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome, also known as TSS. It’s a life-threatening and rare disease caused by a bacterial infection getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins. TSS can happen to anyone, not just women. An infection can occur when bacteria enters your body through an opening skin, such as a cut. The link between TSS and a tampon is still unclear, says TSS Information Service. However, in most cases of TSS when women are on their period and use a tampon, they particularly use tampons that are ‘super absorbent’.

I got in touch with Peyton after stumbling across her story on Instagram. I ran a poll on Twitter asking if people heard of TSS. The majority voted no, which shocked me. Knowing that people haven’t heard of the disease is dangerous, especially for girls who are on their period and aren’t aware of the dangers by using a tampon or don’t know how to use them properly. When Peyton got diagnosed, her parents and brother were in Europe for the X Games.

As her brother, professional skateboarder Curren Caples, was fighting for a gold medal, Peyton was fighting for her life. 

How old were you when you got diagnosed?

“I had just turned 15 when I was in the ICU with toxic shock syndrome.”

What initially made you realize or think you had TSS?

“We had no clue what I was sick with, but before I was in the hospital my grandma asked a nurse if it could be toxic shock, and the nurse said, “No that doesn’t happen anymore.” I didn’t find out it was TSS until the day before I was released to go home, and they only suspected it because they couldn’t find anything else wrong with me.”

How many tampons did you use until the symptoms started? And what were your symptoms?

“One tampon. I didn’t notice any symptoms until the one tampon, I got out of the shower and used one. I instantly got dizzy and started feeling nauseous, but didn’t connect it to using a tampon. TSS symptoms mimic the flu and other normal viruses, so it gets really confusing and deadly fast.”

Did you leave a tampon in for a long time?  

“No, that’s a common misconception with toxic shock syndrome survivors. It can happen and raises your chances. But every TSS survivor I know didn’t leave a tampon in.”

What brand of tampon did you use?

“Playtex sport, a friend brought them to me when I didn’t have any. I normally used Kotex brand tampons.”

Is there a way to prevent TSS?

“Not using tampons/menstrual cups, or if you do use tampons, 100% cotton tampons. There are rayon and wood pulp in tampons that cause TSS. There is no reported case of TSS with cotton tampons. I use birth control continuously without placebo pills to not have a period.”

From your experience and battle with TSS, how do you wish to help and aspire other girls and women?

“I don’t want it to happen to anyone else, and it makes me feel really bad when I find out another girl got TSS. For me, when trying to raise more awareness, I get more anxiety and PTSD symptoms. As much as I would love using my story to the fullest extent to raise awareness, my minimal effort is all I can mentally deal with.”

In 2015, there have been five reported cases of TSS in Michigan.  All of the young women used the female hygiene product. Four of the five used the brand Peyton used; Playtex Sport. TSS affects one in 200,000 people.  “Although Toxic Shock Syndrome cases are rare, this recent cluster is an important reminder to always review product safety information,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the MDHHS. If a case of TSS is untreated, it can lead up to multiple organ failures and death.

You might ask yourself, “Are tampons safe to use?”. The answer is yes, tampons are safe to use when used properly. To reduce your risk of TSS, VeryWell has written eight safety tips. To spread more awareness about TSS, educate your friends about it. It might be “strange” for them to hear that a tampon causes this disease. But TSS is rare and not a lot of people have heard about it nor take it seriously. It’s important to understand the proper use of tampons and be more aware. To prevent, alternate between tampons and pads and maintain a good hygiene. If you have any symptoms of TSS while you’re on your period, contact your doctor immediately. With early diagnosis, TSS can be treated effectively.



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