KSU football player fights for life

Then-Kent+State+freshman+wide+reciever+Antwan+Dixon+runs+for+a+47-yard+touchdown+on+the+Flashes%E2%80%99+opening+drive+of+the+Kent+State+vs+Marshall+game+on+Sept.+26%2C+2015.+Kent+State+lost+in+double+overtime%2C+36-29.

Then-Kent State freshman wide reciever Antwan Dixon runs for a 47-yard touchdown on the Flashes’ opening drive of the Kent State vs Marshall game on Sept. 26, 2015. Kent State lost in double overtime, 36-29.

Scott Lendak

When Shemariah Dixon prepared to leave for work on a warm June day in 2013, she turned to her son Antwan Dixon.

“Move your car for me,” she asked, “so I can get out.”

When she followed him outside moments later, Antwan lay slumped over the hood of his car.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He didn’t answer.

Shemariah rushed him to a walk-in clinic, which immediately sent him to a hospital. 

It was the first of many hospital visits for Antwan, a star high-school athlete who went on to play his freshman year at Kent State before that illness changed his life.

Today, he is at home in Fort Myers, Florida, recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

“When they officially told us Antwan had aplastic anemia, we were actually excited,” Shemariah said. “My dad had just died from leukemia. I thought this couldn’t be any worse. Then the doctor told us that it was.”

Aplastic anemia is a rare blood disorder in which the body doesn’t create new blood cells. There are 1,069 deaths per year caused by aplastic anemia, and Shemariah was worried that her son could be another statistic.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Shemariah said. “I never worried about the sports aspect of his condition. I worried about how it would affect him as a human. I was more concerned if this disease would take my son’s life.”

Doctors prescribed medication for Antwan to let him resume high school, including an athletic career which led him to a scholarship at Kent State, where he was the fastest player on the team and led the Flashes in receiving yards in 2015.

“We knew that it wouldn’t go away, but Antwan was happy, and we hoped the medication would continue to work for him,” Shemariah said.

But during spring practice in 2015, he started to struggle.

“He’s always the hardest working kid in practice, so it was tough to see him panting and running out of breath so easily,” sophomore running back Will Matthews, a close friend, said.

The medication had stopped working, and Antwan never made it back for his second season.

“He told us that he would have to go home and deal with his condition,” Matthews said.  “Once it finally kicked in that he wouldn’t be here for the school year, it was really hard.”  

Antwan returned to Florida for treatment.

“We were hopeful,” Shemariah said. “We always say that God has a plan for everything. That was just a minor setback.”

Antwan spent many weeks in the hospital, but by Summer 2016, he felt good enough to return to Kent for summer school. Right before he left, he had a biopsy to see where he stood.

But shortly after returning to campus, he received the results, and the news was not good.

So he flew back to Florida and in October went on a new medication.

“From November to January, he was momentarily able to live his normal life,” Shemariah said.  “Then January came to end, and we had to take the next step.”

In January 2017, Antwan was told his body would never be able to recover on its own and that he needed a bone marrow transplant.

The best match was his father, Anthony Dixon.

“When they told me I was the best match, I couldn’t hesitate,” Anthony said. “That’s my kid. I would do anything for that boy.”

Antwan went through eight days of chemotherapy ahead of the transplant. He had nine teeth pulled to stop uncontrolled bleeding, and as a result he lost 40 pounds.  

When junior safety Juantez McRae heard what his friend was going through, the news hit hard. To him, Antwan Dixon is family.

“I couldn’t do anything but cry,” McRae said. “My best friend’s life was at stake. It’s terrible to see that kind of stuff happen to a kid who is so uplifting.”

As Antwan awaited surgery, his teammates reminded him that they were still there for him with a card.

“Some guys left short messages, and some guys left long messages, but all of us wanted him to know that he was in our prayers,” junior linebacker Matt Bahr said.

The transplant replaced Antwan Dixon’s blood cells with his father’s.

Meanwhile, family friend Pricilla Doyle set up a GoFundMe account to help with uncovered medical expenses and other costs. The initial goal was to raise $10,000.

The campaign has reached almost $12,000.

“We’re very independent people,” Shemariah said. “We try not to look for help from others, but (Doyle) helped us regardless. It means a lot to have a friend like her.”

Doyle’s son played football for Anthony, who was a coach at South Fort Myers High School.

“As a mom, I couldn’t imagine going through what the Dixons are experiencing,” Doyle said.  “They handle every challenge with such grace and courage. I don’t even have words to describe it.”

Doyle said Anthony and Shemariah never ask for anything, so she had to find a way to allow people to help.

“The example that Antwan has set for the student athletes who have watched him succeed in football and in life is amazing,” Doyle said.  

Doyle said Antwan was discharged from the hospital Friday.

He already has seen his white blood cell count go over 1,000 for the first time in over a year.

“His body is accepting his dad’s cells as its own,” Doyle said. “This is amazing, but he is not out of the woods yet. Antwan has to remain near the hospital for the first 100 days after the transplant.”

Kent State football coach Paul Haynes showed support for Antwan by raising awareness on social media. He didn’t want to comment for this story, saying he didn’t know enough about Antwan Dixon’s current medical condition.

Shemariah said her family is grateful for the support they’ve received from Kent to Florida.

“It makes him feel that he isn’t in this battle alone,” she said. “We have a lot of friends and family that have been there for us. We have prayed, and our faith has taken us to where we are today.” 

Antwan sent word through his mother that he didn’t feel up to talking for this story himself. She said he was hopeful he could return to Kent State in the fall.

‘Antwan was the standard,’ his teammates say

Antwan Dixon had 517 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman year for the Kent State football team.  

His stats aren’t important to his teammates.

“Every time he scored a touchdown, or I made a tackle, we would run towards each other and do our little dance,” junior safety Juantez McRae said.  “Everyone looked at us like we were crazy, but it just helped us throughout the game, even during the tough times.”

McRae couldn’t stop smiling when he talked about Antwan.

“He is a kid that you are always going to see laughing,” McRae said.  “He likes to encourage people to do better and be great. When I’m in a bad mood, he just comes up to me, and I can’t stay mad.”

Sophomore running back Will Matthews said Antwan was funny with his teammates, but when the time came to be competitive, he never disappointed the coaches.

“Antwan was the standard,” Matthews said. “With everything he had going on, he was still the hardest worker we had out there.  He was never the person the coaches had to yell at to give more effort. He came in his freshman year and committed to working as hard as he could. He was the ultimate standard of leading by example.”

McRae added that Antwan made him better by challenging him to be the best player he could be.  

“I miss competing with him in practice,” McRae said.  “I was going to get him better, and he was going to get me better.  We bumped heads on the practice field a lot, but at the end of the day it was nothing but love.  We both have the same goal, so we both know it doesn’t matter if we fight at times.”

His teammates also admired his attitude and smile that could be seen through his facemask.

“Antwan lights up the room with his smile,” junior linebacker Matt Bahr said.  “He is one of those guys that you want to talk to if you’re having a bad day. He’s always going to ask how you’re doing.”  

Antwan’s friends and family are confident that he will be in a football uniform again one day.

“Seeing how strong my son has been throughout this process, he has a great chance of doing what he loves to do,” Shemariah said. “He’s such a fighter, and you can’t count him out of anything.”

McRae said if Antwan wants to play football again, nothing would stop him.  

“If he’s confident that he can play again, then I’m confident,” McRae said.  “If Antwan could just touch the ball one more time, I know he would take it for a touchdown. I’m living for the day that I can see Antwan on the field again.”

Matthews was less concerned with Antwan’s ability to come back to the football field.

“I told him no matter what happens, whether he’ll play football again or not, I just want him to be healthy and happy,” Matthews said. “With that being said, I am positive that Antwan can come back from this if he gets the green light.  The second they allow him to return to football, he’ll be back up here working out with the team.”

How to help

You can contribute to the Go Fund Me account supporting Antwan Dixon at https://www.gofundme.com/antwans-aplastic-anemia-fight.

Scott Lendak is the gymnastics reporter, contact him at [email protected]