The University of Nevada, Reno sorority, Pi Beta Phi, held a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, Jan. 24, for their sister Heaven Akmal, who died over Winter break due to a cardiac arrest.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, UNR freshman Heaven Akmal collapsed in her bathroom. Shortly after, she fell into cardiac arrest and was admitted to Summerlin Hospital in Las Vegas, where she was put into a medically induced coma. After an MRI scan, the doctors found that she had suffered major brain damage. She was confirmed dead on Jan. 14.
“Saying goodbye to her was the hardest thing,” said Emily Budd, a friend of Akmal’s. “Even today when I think about it, I just remember holding her hand and saying, ‘I love you no matter what and I’ll never forget you’.”
The vigil was originally meant to be held at the outdoor Manzanita Bowl on the university’s campus, but due to high winds and a snow warning, it was moved to the Nell J. Redfield Foundation Auditorium in the Davidson Math and Science Building.
“It probably affected turnout,” said Ryan Vellinga, a friend of Akmal. “But ultimately, the people who really wanted to be there made sure to show up.”
The venue change came only an hour before the event was supposed to start as people raced to get the word out.
“I think it being moved was hard for turnout,” said Budd. “Not a lot of people have social media so it was all word of mouth. And I think it was a little too late, I mean, an hour before it was supposed to start and they moved the location. So I think people might have shown up at the Manzanita Bowl and was like ‘Where is everybody at?’.”
The Vice President of the Nevada Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi, Hannah Neely, gave a speech, along with two of Akmal’s friends, including Budd who stayed with her every day in the hospital.
“It was hard because I had so much I wanted to say,” Budd said. “I wanted to say everything that she was before she came to Reno. Like she was in theater, she loved theater, she loved show tunes, she performed so many shows back in Vegas. And everyone knew her because of it. I just really wanted to relay everything about Heaven and what she meant to me.”
Akmal was a theater major and had been performing in shows for the last decade. Akmal commonly performed at “Broadway Bound” in Las Vegas, starring in shows like “Into The Woods” and “All Shook Up”.
“I feel like people need to realize that life is not as long as you really think,” said Budd. “No matter what, anyone could collapse any day, and then that’s it. So I feel like people really need to open their eyes that life is as short as a second.”