By Mary M. Newman, MS
Her family honors her by promoting SCA awareness & prevention
Jamie Dixon, head coach of the Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team at the University of Pittsburgh, led his team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2006.
The same season, his younger sister, Maggie Dixon, led her team to the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Tournament in her first season as coach of the Army Black Knights team at the U.S. Military Academy. It was the first NCAA appearance for any Army team, and the Dixons became the first brother-sister pair to take teams to the NCAA basketball tournaments the same year.
When March madness subsided, Jamie was back on the road recruiting. The best of times turned quickly to the worst of times. “I was just getting off the plane in Virginia, when I got the call,” says Jamie. Maggie had collapsed at a friend’s house. Doctors said she had a heart arrhythmia. Jamie rushed back to be with his sister and was the first family member to arrive. Maggie died the next day, on April 6, at the age of 28. She’s buried at West Point, an honor usually reserved for high-ranking officials and other heroes.
“Our family will never be the same,” says Jamie. “There will always be a void. There has been a great deal of pain.” Still, the Dixon family made a firm decision. They would remember Maggie by honoring her passion—women’s collegiate basketball and their new cause—heart health issues, including sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). “We decided we would do everything we could to educate ourselves about sudden cardiac arrest, and then educate others,” says Jamie.
Since then, Jamie, their sister Julie Dixon Silva and parents Marge and Jimmy Dixon established the Maggie Dixon Foundation, which works to promote women’s collegiate basketball and “to bring awareness to sudden cardiac arrest among young people, especially athletes.” The Foundation hosts the Maggie Dixon Classic, which began at West Point and is now conducted annually at Madison Square Garden. “We wanted it to be the premier women’s basketball event in the country, and it quickly became that,” says Jamie.
They also host the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair. “Once we established the Maggie Dixon Classic and had a venue, we quickly recognized we should create a heart health fair. We saw an opportunity to promote heart health (diet and exercise), heart screening and SCA awareness, including CPR-AED training.”
Today, all Pitt basketball players are trained in CPR-AED use and first aid. The University of Pittsburgh, under the direction of Dan Edmundowicz, MD, ensures that all Pitt coaches, athletic trainers and managers are also trained. In addition, all athletes undergo heart screening when they arrive on campus. Thanks to Dr. Edmundowicz, says Jamie, “Pitt was one of the first universities to implement heart screening for all athletes.” He adds that teaching student athletes CPR and AED use will help ensure that lives will be saved in the future.
“Getting CPR-AED programs on campus is a great place to start,” says Jamie. When they graduate, “Students can take their knowledge forward to the places they work and to their communities. It’s a great way to spread the message and get it to grow.”
Mary M. Newman, MS, is the president and co-founder of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.
Note: Jamie Dixon is Honorary Chairman of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation Board of Directors.