Autopsy shows Dixon had enlarged heart

Updated: April 14, 2006, 1:59 PM ET
Associated Press

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- A month ago, 28-year-old Army coach Maggie Dixon left the Christl Arena court on the shoulders of jubilant cadets after leading the women's basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament berth.

On Friday, Dixon was mourned in a chapel across from the U.S. Military Academy's campus, a day after she died following an "arrhythmic episode to her heart."

Dixon died Thursday night at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., academy spokesman Lt. Col. Kent Cassella said.

West Point officials have expressed their desire to have Dixon buried at West Point, an honor usually reserved for high-ranking officials, ESPN has learned. The Dixon family may make a decision on the burial in the next 24 hours.

An autopsy conducted Friday found that Dixon had an enlarged heart and a problem with a heart valve, according to the Westchester County Medical Examiner's office. The valve problem could have caused her heart to beat irregularly and ultimately stop.

West Point officials have expressed their desire to have Dixon buried at West Point, an honor usually reserved for high-ranking officials, ESPN has learned. The Dixon family may make a decision on the burial in the next 24 hours.

About 500 people filled the Catholic Chapel, including her family and players who remembered her as equal parts coach, big sister and best friend. On the cover of the memorial service program was a picture of a beaming Dixon, her left index finger jabbing skyward as she was carried off the court following the historic win.

Those who spoke universally recalled Dixon's exuberance, humor and the guidance she offered when things weren't going well.

"Adversity, ladies. How are you going to react?" guard Adrienne Payne said in recalling one of Dixon's challenges to her team.

(AP/Keith Ferris) A somber Army athletics director Kevin Anderson leaves Friday's memorial service for women's basketball coach Maggie Dixon at Holy Trinity Chapel in West Point, N.Y.

Cadets, who made up about three-quarters of the crowd, were excused from classes to attend. It was somber and stoic, with few tears and some laughter mixed in. In front of the altar was a basketball, the Patriot League trophy they won last month and a photo of the team.

Dixon was hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition after suffering an "arrhythmic episode to her heart" at the school, her older brother, Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, said Thursday.

"Maggie touched so many people beyond basketball," Jamie Dixon said in a subsequent statement released Friday by Pittsburgh. "Our family has received an outpouring of sympathy from across the country and we are deeply appreciative. As her older brother I know she looked up to me. But I always looked up to her, too, and it's obvious that a lot of other people did as well."

Dixon had said his sister collapsed and was taken to the intensive care unit of Westchester Medical Center.

"She ... went to the house of a friend for afternoon tea where she said she wasn't feeling good and she collapsed," said Dixon, who read a prepared statement from the hospital on Thursday.

He said he had breakfast with his sister earlier Wednesday and that she had apparently been feeling well.

Dixon's time at Army was short but significant.

Heart Arrhythmia
Any disturbance in the normal beating pattern of the heart is called an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

There are two main categories of arrhythmia: tachycardia, meaning too fast a heartbeat, and bradycardia, meaning too slow a heartbeat. (Both conditions refer only to exceptional elevations or depressions of heart rate, not to the normal variance that occurs throughout the day depending on whether you are resting or active.)

More information on heart arrhythmia can be found on WebMD.com.

She arrived at the storied military academy on the banks of the Hudson River in October, just 11 days before the start of the season and inherited a team that had gone 74-70 over the previous five seasons. The team struggled at the beginning, before winning nine of its last 11 games.

Just six months after Dixon took over, the 69-68 win over Holy Cross in the Patriot League final put Army into the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The rookie coach's accomplishment earned extra acclaim because Jamie Dixon had taken Pitt to the men's tournament at the same time. The Dixons are believed to be the first brother and sister to coach in the NCAA Tournament in the same year.

"I believe she was having dreams of grandeur that we'd dunk on Tennessee," forward Ashley Magnani said.

And, despite a 102-54 first-round loss to the Volunteers, things were looking up for the Black Knights.

"I just loved the energy that Coach brought to practice every day and the way she never gave up on us, always believed in us," guard Cara Enright said. "She would tell us to 'Use what you've learned here at the academy and apply it to basketball.' "

Members of her team were with Dixon's family members at her bedside Thursday.

West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. William Lennox Jr. said the entire community was heartbroken by her death.

"From the time Maggie arrived here, her enthusiastic 'no limits' approach earned her the respect and love of everyone," he said.

The North Hollywood, Calif., native had hoped to play in the WNBA after graduating in 1999 from the University of San Diego. But the Los Angeles Sparks cut her after a tryout in May 2000. She went into coaching with encouragement from her brother.

"He said, 'If you want to do this coaching thing, do something drastic,' " Dixon told The Associated Press last month. "That's what I did."

She held a number of positions under DePaul coach Doug Bruno after walking into his office and introducing herself. She eventually became his top assistant in May 2004.

The Army team was expected to fly to California next week for Dixon's funeral. Arrangements were not complete as of Friday afternoon.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press