A young teenager was on the verge of death because of a rare, life-threatening illness.
Fortunately she survived, but now 14-year-old Natalie Millerick and her mother are on a mission to educate women about a condition that made headlines 35 years ago.
Natalie is strong and vibrant and is the picture of health, but back in May, her life took a turn that nobody expected.
“Her blood pressure was dangerously low. She was in severe kidney failure and we had no idea why,” said her mother Lisa Millerick.
In just a day and a half, Natalie had a stomach bug that progressed into something much more serious, sending her temperature soaring to 103.
“It was the sickest I've ever felt and I dreaded standing up,” Natalie said.
As she and her mother rushed to the doctor’s office, Lisa Millerick, a nurse, decided to go straight to the emergency room.
“I said you know, she has her period and she's been using tampons and they said let’s get that tampon out right now, and within moments I think we all felt she was exhibiting symptoms of toxic shock,” Lisa Millerick said.
Toxic Shock Syndrome first made headlines in 1980 when it was blamed for the deaths of nearly 40 women who used to rely on super absorbent tampons.
The illness is very rare, but all boxes of tampons now carry warnings.
The risk of toxic shock grows when tampons are not changed frequently. Doctors recommend that they are changed every four to eight hours.
Leaving tampons in place longer can allow the absorbent fibers to become a breeding ground for staph and strep, the bacteria that causes toxic shock.
“These bacteria in particular release a toxin and so it's not necessarily the bacteria per se but this toxin that sets off a huge cascade within the body that causes severe inflammation that potentially can cause the shock but also potentially injure the organs,” said Dr. Ken Banasiak, of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
This is exactly what happened to Natalie.
“I knew we might lose our daughter and at that moment I just prayed and prayed she would get better,” Lisa Millerick said.
“I remember my parents being in the room and I saw tears rolling down their faces and I didn't know why,” Natalie said.
After spending a week in the hospital, Natalie bounced back. Four months later she is finally feeling like herself again.
Despite all they have been through, the mother and daughter want to make it clear that they are not against tampons, but what they are pushing for is greater awareness.
“I'm not trying to scare you away from using tampons. They are fine to use -- you just have to know when to use them and how to use them. And if you get sick, do take them out,” Natalie said.
“Our mission is to educate for symptoms. If your daughter gets sick or you yourself get sick and you're wearing a tampon - even if it's a cold - take it out. Take it out because that could have prevented the huge reaction she had to that - and the infection from building up and up and up,” Lisa Millerick said.
Natalie said she knows how fortunate she is to have survived and now she views life in a whole new way.
“When I would get frustrated with my siblings now I think, I may not have been here with them anymore,” Natalie said.
“She was meant to be here -- that's what I believe. She's a miracle,” Lisa Millerick said.
Among the signs for toxic shock to look for are a sudden high fever, a rash resembling a sunburn, muscle aches, seizures and headaches.
If you present these symptoms, go see a doctor immediately.
For more information on Toxic Shock Syndrome, click here.
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