Brandi and Michael Zanfardino watched their young son’s chest rise and fall with every breath as he lay in the hospital bed. His thin arms rested over his stomach, and his dark eyelashes fluttered as he slept. He was likely dreaming of dropping in a skateboard half pipe, but in reality, Landon was fighting for his life. Brandi felt like she was in a dream too, but hers was more like a recurring nightmare. Nine years ago, Brandi had sat with Michael in the same children’s hospital off Richland Medical Park Drive and watched newborn Landon breathe in an isolette incubator.
Landon was born 8 weeks early at 5 pounds even. He spent five and a half weeks in the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with his parents faithfully by his side. Nine years ago, the battle was getting Landon to take a bottle. But shortly after Landon’s 9th birthday, his body entered a crisis that would change his life forever.
An Instant Connection
Before Landon discovered his love for skateboarding, his family would tell you that he mostly loved going to the lake and playing video games with his friends. He also really loved pickles — so much so that one of his buddies gave him a jar of pickles on his 9th birthday. Landon was an average kid; he had struggled with his motor skills for several years because of his prematurity, but now he was a healthy and thriving 9 year old.
His favorite video game was Skate 3. XBox describes the game as a way for players to “shred the streets, parks, and plazas” and promises “a new level of skateboarding fun.” It was the game that inspired Landon to ask his parents for his first skateboard. Brandi and Michael allowed Landon to explore various sports over the years, but none interested him. Unsure if Landon would stick with skateboarding, Michael bought Landon a cheap plastic board from Walmart.
In February 2016, Landon stepped on his first skateboard in his neighbor’s driveway and immediately connected. “He got on and never really got off,” says Brandi.
“He would go for hours and hours,” says Michael. Despite the Carolina heat, Landon would spend long afternoons on his board, determined to land the latest trick. When Michael took Landon to the skate park for the first time, he was impressed by the support of the skateboarding community. “The connection was almost instant,” says Michael. “An older person there skating could tell Landon was a beginner and gave him pointers. People in the skateboarding community are all very supportive. No matter what level you are, they’re going to be hyping you up to get whatever trick you’re learning, even if you are just rolling across the concrete.” Landon had not experienced this kind of camaraderie in youth sports and enjoyed the challenge of competing with himself.
In only a short time, his parents took Landon to Salty’s Board Shop on Devine Street to pick out a new skateboard with trucks and high-grade urethane wheels that would deliver a much faster and smoother ride.
Landon describes an immense feeling of freedom when he stepped on his new board. “I felt free to do whatever I wanted,” he says. “Nobody skates the same way.” The freedom to do any trick any way he wanted allowed him to exercise his creativity and explore his limits. Landon pushed himself and showed a determination that his parents had never seen in their son. He would only stop occasionally to bend over and stretch his aching back and legs.
As Brandi and Michael watched Landon skate in the park, they never imagined that his body was so close to crisis.
The Second Fight for His Life
Skateboarding is an adrenaline-fueled sport. The risk of injury and the determination to land a trick sends adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol coursing through a healthy skater’s body. But no matter how risky the trick, Landon’s body failed to produce two of these essential hormones: aldosterone and cortisol. Because of this deficiency, Landon’s adrenal glands were consistently depleting sodium and raising potassium levels, leading to symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness, lower back and leg pain, low weight, and craving for salty, vinegary foods — like pickles.
Late August 2016, Landon woke up covered in sweat but was freezing cold. What he remembers from that day is foggy, but his parents’ memories are crystal clear. Landon was trying to talk but was not making any sense. He was confused, cold, and incoherent.
At the urgent care, the doctor ordered blood work. “It came back showing that his levels were way, way low — way out of whack. Really high potassium and really low sodium,” says Michael. The doctor instructed the family to go to Richland Children’s Hospital immediately. “My first thought was, is this cancer?” says Michael. “But the doctor said, ‘I think it’s something adrenal-related.’”
On the way to the hospital, Michael remembers trying to keep Landon awake. “I was saying, ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ and touching his face.” Landon was in and out of consciousness as his body quickly approached a crisis. At the hospital, nurses struggled to get a temperature reading on Landon, but when they did, it was critically low.
Brandi and Michael will never forget the intuitive nurse who recalled her studies from nursing school and suggested a rare diagnosis to her colleagues — one that she was told she would never encounter in the children’s hospital: Addison’s Disease. After quickly consulting with one another, the team administered two injections. Within moments, Landon became alert and interactive with the staff.
Landon spent the next five days in the hospital as his parents devoured information about his rare diagnosis. In developed countries, Addison’s Disease affects about 100 to 140 of every million people. Brandi and Michael learned that fewer than 15,000 cases in 2023 exist in children worldwide. They began to piece together symptoms that Landon had displayed for years, including his body aches and pickle cravings. They also learned that Landon had experienced an adrenal crisis — a life-threatening condition that could lead to a hypoglycemic coma, respiratory failure, or even cardiac arrest. These sobering realizations made them all the more grateful that Landon was beating the odds at the children’s hospital for the second time in his life.
The Comeback Kid
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that it took me a while to get used to Landon having this diagnosis,” says Brandi. “A piece of me didn’t want him to skate anymore.” But Landon was undeterred. In fact, he came back from his crisis with a more renewed and powerful sense of determination. With a treatment plan in place, Landon’s body started receiving what it needed, and he felt stronger than ever. His pain subsided, and his energy and mood improved significantly. After a six-month break, Landon was back on the board and was unstoppable.
In 2018, Landon competed in his first competition in Florida and placed second in the 10 and under division. Over the next three years, Landon scored first place in 11 competitions and in the top three in 12 others around the country. In some cases, Landon competed in divisions aged up to 29 years and won best overall. And the judges weren’t the only ones who recognized Landon’s skill. In 2018, Landon was offered his first sponsorship by Gator Skins Ramp Surface. Now Landon is also sponsored by Centaur Hawaii Skateboards, Jarritos Mexican Sodas, and Grom clothing.
In November 2021, Landon collaborated with Jarritos to share his health and skateboarding journey in an inspiring documentary called Landon Skates. In the film, Landon describes his dedication to the sport and his fearless drive to become a future skateboarding professional. The documentary, hosted on Jarritos’ Facebook page, has received more than 11,000 views.
Today, Landon attends school online so that he is free to travel around the country for competitions. He manages his health with daily medication and plenty of hydration. Landon aspires to compete in the Olympics and the XGames. “We’re here to support him however we can,” says Michael. “We’ll give him any tool he needs, but he’s got to do the work.”
Brandi’s dream for her son is simple. “I just want him to be happy,” she says. “If he wants to skate and travel the world, I support that. If he wants to go to college and be a doctor or whatever, I support that. I just want him to be happy. He deserves it.”