Lisa Elifritz is on a mission to make sure that the life and death of her daughter mattered.
Two years ago, 20-year-old Amy Elifritz, a graphic design student from Columbus, died at Columbus Regional Hospital from toxic shock syndrome — a bacterial infection that has been associated with super-absorbent tampons.
Lisa is working with U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., to get legislation passed that would require the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to count the number of cases of toxic shock syndrome, and for the National Institutes of Health to research and determine the health risks of the chemicals and fibers that are used to make tampons. Lisa Elifritz would like manufacturers to have to list all the contents of the tampons on their boxes.
The Elifritz family is suing the tampon manufacturer, the hospital where she was treated and the doctors and nurses who treated her at the hospital. The hospital, doctors and nurses are not named specifically because of malpractice laws, but Amy Elifritz’s obituary reported that she died at Columbus Regional.
Lisa has created a nonprofit organization, a blog and a Facebook page to honor the memory of Amy and to educate girls about the early symptoms and prevention of tampon-related toxic shock syndrome.
“People come up to me every day and tell me what an impact (Amy) had on their lives. I think she is saving lives,” Lisa said.
Educating others by telling Amy’s story is how Lisa copes with her grief.
Amy suffered from a fever of 103 degrees, vomiting and diarrhea, Lisa told The Republic in 2010. Two days later, Amy was weak and dehydrated, and her muscles hurt. Lisa took Amy to PromptMed, which directed Lisa to take Amy to Columbus Regional Hospital’s emergency department for fluids, Lisa said in 2010.
Blood tests there showed that Amy’s kidneys were shutting down. A sunburn-like rash on her torso alerted doctors to what they were dealing with, Lisa said in 2010.
Despite treatment, Amy developed adult respiratory syndrome and liver and heart failure. She died June 13, 2010.
Lisa channeled her grief into starting a nonprofit organization, You-ARE-Loved, about 11/2 years ago; ARE stands for Amy Rae Elifritz. Lisa also started a blog, you-are-loved.org, about toxic shock syndrome and a Facebook page that honors Amy’s memory.
Those efforts started with research into the topic of toxic shock syndrome. Lisa said she became alarmed with what she learned and wanted to share the information.
The use of synthetic fibers and chemicals such as chlorine compounds are believed to be the problem because they allow bacteria to grow more, unlike cotton tampons. Lisa said she thinks that is the problem.
Maloney’s tampon safety legislation, which she has been trying to get passed since 1997, says that the Environmental Protection Agency has reported dioxin as a “probable cancer-causing agent.” It says that tampons sold in the U.S. are made of rayon, cotton or a combination of both. Rayon is made from bleached wood pulp, and the chlorine bleaching of pulp produces dioxin as a byproduct.
The legislation says that the number of toxic shock syndrome cases and deaths has not been reported since 2003. The CDC has not conducted active surveillance since 1987, according to its website.
“I need congressmen to pass the bill,” Lisa said.
The lawsuit, filed June 6 in Marion County, sues the tampon manufacturer, Playtex; its parent company; an anonymous hospital where Amy was admitted’ and anonymous physicians and nurses who treated her.
The lawsuit says that the tampons were hazardous and contributed to Amy’s death, and that the doctors and nurses provided substandard care.
Neither Lisa Elifritz nor CRH said they would comment on the lawsuit.
The response to Lisa’s educational efforts has been positive.
Lisa has encountered others who survived toxic shock syndrome, and more than 50 have shared their story through the blog and Facebook page.
“They are in such horrible shape,” Lisa said, citing amputations of fingers or toes, ongoing illness and nerve damage.
While Lisa has used education to cope with her grief, Amy’s sister, Sara, and father, Ray, have handled it differently.
Sara stays busy at college trying to earn her degree and doesn’t like to talk about Amy’s death, Lisa said.
Ray suffers the most, Lisa said. He has few happy days because he’s overwhelmed by grief every day.
“I feel like I didn’t just lose Amy but my husband, too, because of his grief,” Lisa said.
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