NAME: Michelle Akers
TEAM: U.S. Women's National Soccer Team
POSITION: Center midfielder and striker
INJURY/CONDITION: Chronic Fatigue & Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS)
HOW IT HAPPENED
In 1991, after the Women's Soccer World Championship in China, Akers felt tired and lethargic, but chalked it up to her busy schedule. After several more months of increasingly diminished energy levels, she became concerned and visited a doctor who advised her to rest for at least a month. At times, she was barely able to function. It was an extreme effort for her to do laundry, prepare a meal, or attempt the exercise bike for 5 minutes.
Thinking it might also be diet-related, she also consulted a nutritionist. But, even with a diet change the fatigue, dizziness, migraines, night sweats, upset stomach, and metabolism problems remained and, over time, worsened. When she collapsed during a game in 1993, she decided that she was sick and not just tired or run down.
Michelle Akers, who some have called the greatest women's soccer player ever, has had her share of injuries in her career. She has had 12 knee surgeries, five or six more knee injuries that didn't require surgery, concussions, and knocked out teeth. Akers attended the University of Central Florida from 1984 through 1989 and has been on the U.S. national team from 1985 to the present. Some of her numerous awards include: 1991 World Cup Golden Boot Winner, 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist, 1998 Goodwill Games Gold Medalist, 1999 FIFA Bronze Ball Award, and 1999 FIFA World Cup Champion. She is the all-time leading scorer in World Cup competitions and is one of only four players worldwide to score more than 100 career goals in international play.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN CHRONIC FATIGUE & IMMUNE DYSFUNCTION SYNDROME (CFIDS)?
It's not known what causes CFIDS. Doctors think it's either an unidentifiable virus or a lot of different viruses reacting with environmental factors or a predisposition in the body. CFIDS has varying symptoms. Common symptoms include extremely painful headaches and night sweats, forgetfulness, and extreme fatigue. Akers has said, "If you have had the flu or jet lag, it's that feeling multiplied."
In 1994, after various tests (echocardiogram, heart stress tests, blood tests), Akers was diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis or "Mono," then a chronic infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. Six months later, her doctor finally diagnosed CFIDS.
Without knowing what causes CFIDS, doctors find it difficult to design a treatment plan. Based on the theory that it's caused by abnormalities of immune function, intravenous immunoglobulin and white blood cell extract to boost the immune system have been tried with inconsistent results. The most consistent positive results seem to come from the use of antidepressant drugs.
Exercise also makes the symptoms worse. People with CFIDS usually can't exercise. Paul Cheney, MD, at the Cheney Clinic put Akers on the Elimination Diet, which included multivitamins, antioxidants, B Complex, magnesium, and CoQ10; she also began drinking 2 pounds of carrot juice per day. She saw results in two weeks.
She also met with Peter Rowe, MD, at Johns Hopkins, who diagnosed her as symptomatic for neurally mediated hypotension (NMH). In addition to the Elimination Diet, she also took salt tablets (to help retain water in order to increase blood volume to lessen NMH symptoms) and tried to stay as hydrated as possible.
Since there is no known cause of CFIDS, there is no known way of preventing it.
There is no cure for CFIDS, which can be a life-long illness. Some people who have it are in wheelchairs; others can't get out of bed. It is important to maintain healthful lifestyle habits, such as a varied diet, good exercise, and proper sleep patterns. Treatment often comes down to treatment of individual symptoms such as headaches or sleep difficulties. Akers will continue to struggle with CFIDS both mentally and physically.