"I want to give hope to other little kids with amputations and for them to know they are still beautiful," the 5'11" model tells PEOPLE

By Ana Calderone
June 22, 2015 07:30 AM
Jennifer Rovero/Camraface

Since model Lauren Wasser lost her leg and nearly her life to toxic shock syndrome allegedly caused by a tampon in 2012, she has come to accept what happened to her – but it was a long road.

“I was in a really dark place and I didn’t think that I could go on,” the California native tells PEOPLE. “Honestly, I just accepted that this is my life maybe a month or two ago.”

Wasser was hospitalized for four months following complications from TSS, which included gangrene, severe damage to her left foot and a below-the-knee amputation of her right leg.

“I was so ashamed of my leg,” adds the model, 27, who recently signed with VISION Los Angeles to continue pursuing her modeling career. “I was so embarrassed and I didn’t know how people were going to react because the old Lauren didn’t have these flaws.”

Wasser’s brother, then 14, was a big part of the reason she continued to fight.

“I wanted to show him that I could be badass and recover and stand strong,” she says. “He really was my motivation to stay alive.”

Now, the 5’11” model – who is suing the manufacturer of Kotex Natural Balance, the brand of tampon she used – wants to educate girls about the potential risks of using tampons and is also aiming to be a role model for others with disabilities.

“I want to give hope to other little kids with amputations and for them to know they are still beautiful,” she says. “I can turn this into something positive that people can feed off of and grow from and be inspired from. That’s my whole life goal now.”

Dr. Patrick M. Schlievert, a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology at Carver College of Medicine who has worked on 8,000 TSS cases, tells PEOPLE the best way for women to reduce their risk is by using the lowest absorbency tampon that controls their menstrual flow and changing them every 4 to 8 hours.

“You can never get rid of the risk but you can reduce it as low as possible by using the lowest absorbency,” he says. “The majority of woman are going to be safe using those tampons.”

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