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How This College Football Player Is Inspiring Other Rare Disease Patients

Photos: Courtesy of Antwon Dixon

During his sophomore year of high school, Antwan Dixon began feeling fatigue so extreme that walking up and down stairs was a challenge, nevermind keeping up at track practice. When he fainted after moving his mom’s car out of the driveway, he went to the doctor and discovered the reason for his frequent dizzy spells and vomiting: aplastic anemia, a rare disease that interferes with the body’s natural ability to produce blood cells.

Despite the life-threatening disease, seven years later, Dixon is using his diagnosis to inspire and empower others living with rare health conditions. 

“It’s put me in a lot of different situations, and I’ve been able to spread my story around a lot of different places — especially the people who are playing sports and have aplastic anemia or another rare diseases,” said Dixon, 23, a wide receiver for the Kent State Golden Flashes

Beyond football

Though he is enjoying the game of football now, he hopes to become a motivational speaker in the future. In fact, he’s already working with Uplifting Athletes, an organization that strives to uplift the rare disease community through sports.

When Dixon was diagnosed with aplastic anemia — a condition that, when untreated, can lead to heart rhythm problems and potentially heart failure — he leaned on his family for motivation. He describes his mom’s support as unwavering as he underwent initial treatment.

“My mom was always there when she could. There was probably one day she missed in the past seven years that I was in the hospital,” Dixon said. “My dad was working the majority of the time, but was there when he could be. They motivated me to keep going.” 

Though he’s never met him, Dixon said Pittsburgh Steelers running back and cancer survivor James Conner was a source of inspiration. 

“I’ve never been able to talk to him (Conner), but I’ve read the stories and seen he went through similar things,” Dixon said.

One yard at a time

Dixon has no plans to leave football yet, saying he wants to play the game as long as he possibly can. However, he’s looking forward to the day he can help others in similar situations to his own. 

Today, he shared that he isn’t undergoing any treatment for aplastic anemia. He has an appointment in six months, and then another a year later.

He encouraged other people living with rare diseases to shift their perspective and find the strength to persevere. 

“You’re different. Embrace it — don’t think of it as a negative,” Dixon said. “And keep pushing forward, because at the end of the day, someone’s going to be looking up to you. I know it’s a minor accomplishment, but it’s a big accomplishment at the end of the day.”

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