As the child of two models, Pamela Cook and Robert Wasserburger, growing up in California in the early 1990s, my world until then was defined by rare beauty. I was surrounded by the faces of the time: Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell. Looking back, I realize how unusual my childhood was, but back then that was all I knew. It wasn’t long before I started following in my parents’ footsteps: I booked my first modeling job at just two months old, working alongside my mother in Italian. vogue. But as I got older, I also discovered a passion for athletics – basketball was my true love. Everything I wanted, I was continually told, was within reach.
And so when I woke up from a medically induced coma in this Santa Monica hospital room one day in early October 2012, in excruciating pain, it wasn’t just that I was unrecognizable: I had been stripped of all my identity, of the beauty and the body which, I thought then, had made me me. I had been found unresponsive at home, having suffered from a fever of almost 42°C, my kidneys failing. I had had two heart attacks and only had a one percent chance of survival. When I returned a week and a half later after being put on life support I was pumped with fluid, I weighed 200 pounds, my hair was so matted my head had been shaved and my legs were black with gangrene . It wasn’t until I heard a nurse say that a young woman should be amputated that I realized she was talking about me.
I left the hospital three months later in a wheelchair and came home in shock trying to come to terms with my new reality. For eight months I rolled around in my bathroom and sat on a stool in the shower crying out to 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 certainly 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 realized that prostheses were my path to a more independent life, but seeing the stiff, medical-looking limbs that were available, I struggled to see how I would make them myself. To move forward, I knew I had to create something that matched my identity. I’ve always loved gold, so I decided to make my legs a jewel, to consciously make something that people look at and fascinate. The result is, I believe, something close to art.