Like so many before her, Lauren Kwei, 23, moved to New York City to make something of herself. The West Virginia native had dreams of singing and dancing on Broadway, but she soon found the competitive world of show business unfulfilling.
Wanting to give back to her community, Kwei — the daughter of a doctor and nurse — decided to follow in her parents' medical footsteps. In 2017, she began studying emergency medicine and became a paramedic just weeks before the pandemic began.
"I was dropped right into all of the chaos," Kwei tells "48 Hours" correspondent Maureen Maher in her first television interview. Kwei is featured in the program, "The Mysterious Death of Kat West," airing Saturday, February 19 at 9/8c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
"One day, I remember being told we need to wear N95s," says Kwei. "The next day, we were all gowned up and dressed in full PPE."
What many people didn't know was that the paramedic — who, by day, was covering every inch of her body in protective clothing — was taking it all off online, she says, to make ends meet.
Kwei, like many emergency medical service workers in New York City, was making about $40,000 a year, which is less than other NYC first responders, such as police and firefighters.
"I was really struggling, because this was the job that I love to do. But … it wasn't feasible for me to … live off of that salary," Kwei says.
So, she turned to OnlyFans, a London-based, subscription-only website where people can make money by posting G-rated to X-rated content. When COVID-19 caused widespread lockdowns, the site became a provocative and profitable platform for many. By the end of 2020, OnlyFans had grown to more than a million content creators and had more than 90 million subscribers.
Lauren Kwei says that the money she had earned from her paying subscribers didn't make her rich, but it did cover the cost of her groceries, and kept her afloat after paying rent and bills.
Even though she was using an alias to post her nude photos on OnlyFans, Kwei says she was concerned about the possible risks of being so exposed on the internet. However, her fear of exposure was outweighed by a feeling of empowerment.
"I was doing it on my terms," says Kwei. "I got to control how much of the internet would see my pictures and would know about me."
Then, in November 2020, that sense of control was stripped from Kwei when a reporter from a well-known tabloid contacted her unexpectedly. Initially, Kwei thought he was interested in her work as a paramedic on the front lines of the pandemic.
According to Kwei, the reporter said that he had received a tip that she was a paramedic with an OnlyFans page. Kwei says he wanted to see if her online activity violated her job's code of conduct.
"In that moment, I wanted to just, like, crawl in a hole and die," she says. "What is he going to say about me? What is he going to write about me?"
Kwei says she immediately shut down her OnlyFans account.
However, that didn't stop her from gaining hundreds of new fans on social media once the article came out a few weeks later.
"I opened my Instagram and saw, you know, 600 follow requests," recalls Kwei. "And I was like, 'Oh God, this must be the article.'"
The article printed Kwei's full name, employer, where she lived, her height, weight, and featured photos of her.
"It felt almost like a wanted poster," says Kwei.
With the unwanted attention came growing concern for her safety and her job. Worried that Kwei might be fired, a friend set up a GoFundMe page for her. Supporters contributed more than $100,000.
In the end, the private ambulance company where she was working kept her on the payroll.
Though Kwei wishes she hadn't lost her anonymity, she is proud of her work on the front lines and insists she was proud to have been on OnlyFans.
"The human body, I believe, it should be celebrated," says Kwei. "It's my body and I decide what to do with it."
Kwei says that if Kat West — a stay-at-home mom who had posted adult content on OnlyFans for her hundreds of paying subscribers — was also proud to be on the popular site, she would have had reason to be.
"I didn't know her personally," says Kwei of Kat West. "But I know that people who … sell their photos online, that's not all they are. … That's not the entirety of their lives."
West's half-naked body was found outside her suburban Alabama home in January 2018. Local police investigated whether one of West's OnlyFans subscribers could have stalked and killed her.
"Sometimes I think about Kat West," says Lauren Kwei. "And I think about where she would be today and how much more of her life she could have fulfilled."
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