From the stands at Wildcat Ram Stadium, seventh-grader Brandon Landis, running toward the end zone, looks like any other member of the Lake Highlands Junior High football team. As the announcer hollers, “Touchdown!”, his teammates slap him on the back and huddle around him, and as he eventually separates from the mob and makes his way to the stands, it becomes evident that he’s not entirely physically the same as his peers. His right arm doesn’t move like the left. That’s because a condition called Dystonia, a symptom of a neurological movement disorder called NBIA with which doctors diagnosed Landis a few years ago, has caused him to lose some control of this hand. The diagnosis means gradual loss of muscle control, involuntary twisting and sometimes pain. It has no cure.
For Landis, an aspiring young athlete, it was heartbreaking news. He explains how the first symptoms hit in 2009 during a football camp. “It started with a sore throat, and within 24 hours, I went from running and throwing the football with my buddies to not being able to walk or talk.”
The hardest thing about not playing sports would be losing his connection with his friends, mom Melissa Landis says. But thanks to support from coaches and educators at Lake Highlands Junior High, he didn’t have to sacrifice those bonds. “The football coaches adopted him, not just as a waterboy, but they really involved him,” she says.
The aforementioned touchdown run took some planning, she notes. “The coach had to get special permission since Brandon wasn’t on the roster … and several boys on the team had to know their role in order to make it work. Some of these kids have known Brandon, been playing sports with him since they were 4 years old, but some of them, and the coaches, hardly know him, yet they are willing to do this for him.”
This season he’s a manager for the baseball team. Academics are challenging (“He’s a math wiz,” his mom says, but other subjects give him trouble), but the school administrators go out of their way to help. Brandon’s gregarious personality makes people want to help him. “There are good days and bad days,” she says, “but once you get to know Brandon, it’s really hard not to like him.”