What does it feel like to lose a combined 350 pounds in about 10 months? Just ask Andrew and Nichole “Nikki” Launder of Independence, Kentucky. After each faced fierce battles with obesity for years, they chose to take action united as a couple, signing up to have bariatric surgery with the UC Health Weight Loss Center.
Weight challenges began early in life for each of them.
“I always knew I was chubbier than the other kids,” Andrew says. “I played sports my entire life, and I was always very good at sports even though I was on the big side. But you know when you’re the big guy. You play certain positions in sports and there are certain jobs you do too. It was pretty much a whole life struggle for me.”
As is common with many people, Andrew did not have great examples of proper nutrition growing up.
“That experience then creates your palette in life which is extremely hard to vary from as you age,” he says. His diet consisted of high-carb, high-fat foods including meat, potatoes, bread and butter, among other things.
For Nikki, food was about convenience.
“Early on, my parents had busy jobs and we would have frozen dinners and fast-food drive-through meals often,” she remembers. When her mother became a single parent, the convenience trend continued with more poor food choices.
As a teenager, Nikki says that she was bigger than the other girls, but also very athletic and played sports.
“I thought I was fat and unhealthy from a very young age because of the scrutiny that I saw other people place on my mom who was heavy at the time. It was noticeable and something that was always on my mind. At that time, I was never above 125 pounds,” she says.
After high school, Andrew enlisted in the military. His diet changed significantly.
“My exercise regime increased considerably as I served in the airborne infantry from 2002–2006,” Andrew said. Out of the four years he was enlisted, Andrew spent 18 months in combat. Still, he kept the “big guy” label in the military – at 225 pounds.
“I was considered heavy,” he recalls. “We ran five miles every morning at an eight-minute mile pace. You eat the food necessary to be able to run and exercise that much.”
Life as a Married Couple
Within six months of getting married, Andrew and Nikki had a baby on the way.
“It was an instant family as we also have a son from my previous marriage,” Nikkie states.
Her pregnancy was high risk and she ended up having an emergency C-section.
“I actually lost weight due to this pregnancy,” Nikki remembers. “Once the baby arrived, I just packed on the weight. I had post-partum depression, and I ate non-stop for months on end. The pandemic hit, and it was like tossing wood on an already burning fire.”
“We enabled each other,” adds Andrew.
After Nikki gave birth to their daughter, Lila, she suffered with postpartum depression.
“Things just kept stacking up and it was out of hand,” she says.
Andrew hit his tipping point when he had to go up another pant size to 48” x 46.”
“When you get to the point where you can’t find clothes at the big size stores anymore—and then you go to Goodwill l and hope that someone passed away that was your size,” he says.
Nikki also found herself watching the types of foods that her son, Xavier, was eating.
“It really tore me up,” she says. “I was the reason he was overweight. He was eating the same things I was eating, and I felt so bad about it.
“When the scales tipped 250 pounds,” Nikki says, “I told myself I would not go a pound over 250. But then I went on to weigh 260, 270 and 280 pounds and it kept on coming. When I hit 301 pounds, I was watching my son, Xavier, eat potato chips one day and something went off in my head. I had to do something about it.”
For Andrew, he says that he didn’t want to believe his weight.
“It wasn’t real to me,” he recalls. “But I would see NFL professional linemen who weighed 100 pounds less than me and I still did not accept how big I was. It hit me when I could not walk anymore without my knees turning to numb jelly.”
They both knew that they needed to lose weight as they found themselves at dangerously high obesity levels. They could not live like this any longer.
They attempted to lose weight through fad diets and exercise programs.
“We set ourselves up to try all of them,” says Andrew. “We would buy all the gear and equipment and then, not follow through,” states Nikki. “I bought a treadmill and never used it. Looking back, we always had an excuse—something was coming up tomorrow or next week that would always allow us to put it off.”
Initially, Nikki went to another hospital’s weight loss surgery program. At the time, she weighed about 20 pounds less (285 pounds), however, doctors there told her she was too thin to have the surgery.
“They didn’t want to work with me,” Nikki remembers. “They didn’t give me any advice, they didn’t recommend that I see a nutritionist, there was nothing. I knew I would not be going there. UC Health was the other program I found when I searched online.”
Both are extremely pleased with their choice to go to the UC Health Weight Loss Center.
“At UC Health, the doctors try to do anything they can to help us,” Nikki says.
Andrew and Nikki had gastric sleeve bariatric surgery at UC Health’s University of Cincinnati Medical Center about a month apart, in December 2021 and January 2022, respectively. Their surgeries were performed by Bobby Johnson, MD, UC Health bariatric surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
“We really like Dr. Johnson,” says Andrew. “He explains everything very well and speaks to you on your level so you can retain the important information he is sharing with you.
What Is Sleeve Gastrectomy?
Gastric sleeve surgery is a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery where the surgeon makes tiny incisions, less than one-half inch each in the abdomen, rather than a single, large incision, like traditional surgery. It involves removing about 80%of the stomach, leaving a long banana-shaped sleeve that acts as the new, smaller stomach. One of the biggest advantages of having this surgery is that the part of the stomach where the hunger hormone is made is removed during the procedure, which can help reduce the feeling of hunger.
“Nichole and Andrew were ideal candidates for sleeve gastrectomy,” Dr. Johnson says. “Bariatric and metabolic surgery is best described as a ‘tool’ for weight loss; however, success requires lifestyle and behavioral changes. Every patient is different, and we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. We work with our patients to address individual needs and teach the skills needed for successful weight loss. It is important that new habits start in preparation for surgery. Together, Andrew and Nichole put into practice what they learned before surgery and are continuing to do after surgery as well.
“I also think it’s great when patients who are spouses, like Andrew and Nichole, relatives and friends decide to take a weight loss journey together,” adds Dr. Johnson. “They become their own built-in support system. They push each other, keep each other on task and encourage each other. It has been my experience that these types of ‘patient pairs’ usually succeed and succeed beyond expectations.”
Shannon Kilgore, CNP, CBN, is a certified bariatric nurse at the Weight Loss Center who worked with Andrew and Nikki on lifestyle and behavior modification.
“Andrew and Nikki typically come into the Weight Loss Center separately, on different days, for their appointments,” states Shannon. “However, a big part of their success is their support for one another and their competitive nature. They push each other throughout the process to make the changes needed to succeed, are attentive and trust the advice and strategies the team provides. Most importantly, they put in the work. I love hearing about their dedication and achievements with running and going to the gym. Accountability and support are very important for long-term sustainable weight loss, and they are a great representation of that commitment.”
The entire UC Health team is fantastic, according to Andrew and Nikki.
“They bend over backwards to do anything for you,” they beam.
Achieving Success as a Couple After Gastric Sleeve Surgery
Following the Weight Loss Center plan that includes steadfast guidance and long-term support, Nikki now weighs 180 and Andrew is 190 pounds—losing a combined total of nearly 350 pounds. Both have revamped their approach good nutrition and healthy food choices, regular exercise and have a new zest for life with their children.
“It’s really been great because we have each other,” Andrew says.
“Absolutely!” adds Nikki, “I would not have been able to do this without him.”
Through her journey, Nikki says she has discovered that it is more about the mindset than it is the actual surgery.
“You’re going to do what you want with the tool, and if you waste it, that’s on you. You have an opportunity,” she says.
Strong Family Support
The Launders’ relationship as a family has completely changed—no longer do they patronize fast food restaurants or eat junk food.
“Our son, Xavier, is 12 and has made a complete change and no longer wants fast food. He used to be the short, pudgy kid. He hit a growth spurt and played his first season of football. We want to be a good example for him,” says Nikki.
“Our daughter, Lila is seven and literally the funniest child I have ever met!” laughs Nikki. “We have great kids, and they are enjoying their first sports this year. They are doing this because they are watching us live a healthy lifestyle.”
What’s Their Why?
“From the beginning, my motivator was that I wanted to ride a roller coaster with my kids, and we got to do that this past summer,” Nikki says, tearing up. Doing this is not all for me, it’s for my kids too. I’m so glad to see them making better decisions and being able to do things together as a family. We had the most fun summer—we hiked, we swam, we went to Kings Island—we did everything!”
“I feel like the biggest thing for me is making the mental decision to stay on the plan,” adds Andrew. “Once I was mentally there, it was easy to break old habits. It started falling like tumbleweeds after that. It became easier, but you have to put the work and effort into it. It did not take long at all to know what my body needed as far as food and exercise is concerned.”
Nikki and Andrew agree that it’s about moderation, not deprivation. “You learn quickly that good food makes you feel good, and bad food makes you feel bad,” Andrew adds.
What is Andrew’s new favorite thing to do? Run.
“I love to run. This past May, I started running and I ran my first 5K in August. That month, I was running a 5K every day before work. People talk about the runner’s high, and at three miles, I’d push farther and farther. At one point, I completed a 12-mile run on a Saturday just on a whim. My goal is to run a half or full marathon by end of the year,” Andrew says proudly.
“My favorite thing is being at the gym,” states Nikki. “I’d be there every day if I could. I lift weights and have recently started increasing the weight amount. It’s about seeing what I have accomplished and then, moving it up by five pounds. I have a little ways to go and more to accomplish. I’m going to keep going!”
Both stay accountable by posting photos of themselves during their work outs on social media.
What is their advice to others who are looking to make a change?
“It can be done—we did it. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. You have to trust the plan. And believe that it can be done,” encourages Andrew.
Nikki adds, “Don’t wait. Don’t waste your life being miserable and not being able to do the things you want to do because your body hurts. Do it, embrace it and make it your new lifestyle. You don’t want to waste more years!”
Recently, Andrew came up with their new family slogan: “Feeling good feels good!”
Ready to make a change? Learn more by attending a free information seminar presented by the UC Health Weight Loss Center. Call 513-939-2263.