Despite several brushes with death, Redondo Beach athlete Angela Akers lives her life with formidable fearlessness.
Written & Photographed by Lauren Pressey
Upon first meeting Angela, you’re immediately struck by her beauty. She’s tall, blonde and has confidence that radiates. Start a conversation with her, and you also discover a self-assured woman who simply knows how to get the job done.
We’re often talking about work since we team up frequently for various Moon Tide Media photo shoots, but we’ve also found ourselves on more than one occasion speaking candidly about our personal lives. I’d heard bits and pieces of her incredible story—or incredible fight—and have listened with jaw-dropping astonishment.
Angela has neared death five times in her life, and she’s not even 40 … all this while navigating both a collegiate and a professional career in volleyball. The continual hurdles she’s encountered along with the effects of her numerous surgeries have often left her feeling less than her best, but her persistence on living life with the knowledge that there’s no guarantee for tomorrow has continued to propel her forward.
Now married and living by the beach, she’s taken on a weight-loss challenge, is staying active in the sports she loves and is mentally feeling better than ever.
In 1996, Angela had just turned 18 and was two months into her first year of college. Studying design and training for her volleyball team, she began experiencing headaches that were more than the normal stress headache we all get from time to time. “I began vomiting in the mornings right after lifting my head from the pillow,” she remembers.
The concern ultimately led her and her parents to a host of medical professionals for a diagnosis. With a family history of migraines, it was unanimous that she was suffering from the same migraines her mother and grandmother had experienced—and, subsequently, migraine-induced vomiting.
Her mother’s intuition told her otherwise, and she pushed for an MRI. What they discovered next was beyond belief: a 7.5cm x 2.5cm-sized brain aneurysm displacing her brain stem half an inch. The doctors were floored she was even walking, let alone alive.
Angela was immediately taken in an ambulance to a San Francisco team of doctors known to perform an innovative surgery (yet to be approved by the FDA) to treat brain aneurysms. At that time, there had been 55 similar cases—five of which were as severe as Angela’s. Of those five, two patients had died, two were paralyzed and one fate had yet to be determined. Angela was next.
Miraculously, she survived the surgery with minimal deficiencies and was eager to get back to her daily volleyball training. Just four days after being released from the hospital, she was readmitted for a staph infection she contracted during her recovery at the hospital. This led to spinal meningitis and a month-long hospital stay that almost took her life again.
Fast-forward to January 2000. In the last semester of her college career at age 21, Angela was admitted to the ER after a cyst near her ovaries ruptured. Six blood transfusions later, she was on to recovery but informed by the doctor that she had been only 30 minutes from bleeding out and dying.
In June of the same year, a complication from her past emergency cyst removal led to excessive scar tissue build-up that wrapped around her intestines. Doctors were stumped as to what was wrong when she was first admitted. “After 20 hours, I insisted they open me up and take a look,” she says. Another near-death experience was prevented; the doctors told her in recovery that she had been just 30 minutes from going septic and dying.
Her final brush with death came in 2009 when she tripped over a small fence and struck her abdomen. Not thinking it was much to be concerned with, she continued on until pain began to radiate up to her shoulders and prompted her to visit the ER. Scans revealed a laceration and multiple hemangiomas in her liver.
The surgeon informed her that she could never play volleyball again—or any sport for that matter. “Any fall or hit that impacted my abdomen could cause me to bleed to death,” she explains. After conferring with multiple doctors, Angela made the decision to continue her professional volleyball career. “It wasn’t total disregard of the doctor’s orders, but I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. So I decided to risk it in order to continue doing what I love.”
With all of Angela’s medical struggles, her ability to maintain a positive outlook has been tested time and again. She continues to have debilitating side effects that she manages daily, including continual headaches, digestion issues, memory loss, depression and nausea, among others.
Her most recent challenge, however, was one for the better. After retiring from volleyball, she decided to give her body a break. Realizing the absence of physical activity wasn’t good for her mental health, she knew she needed a jumpstart. After catching wind of the fitness challenge at the new Afterburn Fitness in Manhattan Beach, she didn’t hesitate to sign up. The 60-day challenge would end with a $10,000 prize to the person who either lost the most weight, lost the most body mass or gained the most muscle.
In addition to her workouts, she embarked on a strict diet: no alcohol, no processed foods, a set daily calorie intake and a ten-day master cleanse. The results were exceptional. She lost 16.5 pounds while still maintaining her skeletal muscle mass and decreased her percentage of body fat by 7.2%.
All in all, Angela loves Afterburn Fitness and the team that helped motivate her to get back in shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Her positive outlook is infectious, and she’s determined to stay strong so she can handle any of life’s curveballs that might be thrown her way.
“I’m not a huge fan of talking about my personal struggles,” she shared. “But if I can inspire anyone to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward, then it’s worth it.”
Angela’s Year in Health
Eating is an everyday struggle. I’m still learning what will work best for me to maintain a good energy level and absorb the most nutrition.
I love that my workouts can vary now, and I love going to Afterburn classes like boxing or cross-training at least three times a week, playing volleyball once a week, then squeezing in tennis or hiking when I can. I love being outside the most, but boxing has recently become a new favorite way to sweat out the stress.
I enjoy to taking pictures and getting crafty with my hands (painting, custom home decor, etc.)
I really love a good burger with a full-bodied Cabernet.
My favorite is to be barefoot in the sand.
Next health goal
I plan to find my abs during the next 60 day challenge starting in early September.