Patient Stories

Same Day, Same Surgeon, Same Weight Loss Journey

Jun. 11, 2021

Kami and Jake Barnes have been married for nearly 15 years. When you first meet them, it is obvious that they are the best of friends.

Couples Weight Loss: Before and After

Whether Kami is placing her head lovingly on Jake’s shoulder or Jake is jokingly sticking his tongue out at Kami, their chemistry is strong and immediately apparent.

Jake and Kami spend a lot of time together because, as they’ll both tell you — they truly enjoy each other’s company. Whether it’s going out for dinner, traveling or having bariatric surgery, they do everything together.

Bariatric surgery?

That’s right, Jake and Kami had bariatric surgery together — on the same day, performed by the same surgeon, at the same hospital.

They chose UC Health’s Weight Loss Center and West Chester Hospital to help them with their weight loss journey. Their story, however, begins long before that memorable day of surgery.

Childhood Memories

“I was an athletic, skinny kid, but once puberty arrived, the weight just kept coming on,” Jake says today. “It has been something that I have struggled with since my teenage years.” Growing up in an Italian family, large meals were a centerpiece of activities and gatherings. “My mom always made sure we ate healthy, but it was the portions and the amount of food available that was challenging.”

“Growing up with oversized portions, you were supposed to clean your plate,” he adds. “It’s actually counter intuitive when you’re overweight and your parent tells you that there are starving kids in parts of the world and that they would love to have this food. You get it in your head that this is what I’m supposed to eat – this I my portion and it’s huge.”

Kami started to gain weight during elementary school. “In second grade, I started putting on weight. By third grade, I was on a diet,” she recalls. Even at that young age, Kami’s mom took her to several diet programs.

For Kami, eating was an outlet for stress and emotions. “I literally could binge on any food. I just like food,” she says. “If I was mad, I would eat. If I was bored, I’d eat. If there was something I didn’t want to do and was procrastinating, I’d eat.”

The pattern of weight gain continued as both of them transitioned into adulthood.

A Life of Wedded Bliss

Jake and Kami first met in 2005, were engaged one year later and another year after that, were happily married. “We both gained more weight once we were married,” says Kami. “We ate out a lot,” she adds, “Our restaurant portions were huge — it’s an enormous amount of food. But we did not have a problem eating all of it and even ordered dessert, too.”

As time passed and they were living a happy, blissful life together, the pounds continued to add up for both of them.

Kami also experienced a devastating loss — her mom passed away from breast cancer. Dealing with the grief, food was her relief, and she gained 40 pounds.

It was during a 2018 trip with another couple to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that Kami first noticed how the extra weight was impacting her life. “I kept getting winded, my back was killing me and I could not keep up. Our friends drove the go-carts and I did not want to, because really I did not want to get stuck in a cart.”

A Reality Check

Kami realized that the mentality she had adopted led her down a specific path throughout her life. “In my 20s, I weighed in the 200s, and in my 30s, I weighed in the 300s. When I turned 40, I weighed 368 pounds and was afraid that I’d hit the 400-pound mark.

Thinking about her mother’s death, Kami and Jake decided to do some research, learning that obesity increases the risk of some cancers as well as many other illnesses and conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

That’s when I looked into weight-loss surgery,” she says. Kami decided to attend a free informational seminar offered by the UC Health Weight Loss Center.

Jake planned to attend the seminar with Kami to offer morale support. “Originally, I was not considering surgery, I was going for Kami. I knew that the Gatlinburg trip was an eye-opener for her. And we both knew that weight had been an ongoing issue for both of us.”

Jake and Kami went to the seminar together and listened to what the UC Health Weight Loss Center team had to say. A light bulb went off for Jake. “Everything they were saying about weight, losing and gaining weight, and never being able to keep it off was so true,” he says.

At the seminar, the UC Health Weight Loss Center team also talked about yo-yo dieting. As he listened, Jake started thinking. “I remembered a time in my 20s when I was able to get it together. Kami and I were dating, and I lost a lot of weight. But it all came back on, plus more. I also had some injuries so I was not able to exercise like I had been. So, I lost the weight, gained it back, gained more, lost a little, gained more just like they were talking about.”

Jake and Kami learned that UC Health’s weight loss program provides medical support and counseling to help them gain control of their weight and maintain that weight loss through behavior modification. “This is what convinced me to go on the journey with Kami,” he says.

Couples Weight Loss: Before

Time for Action: Gastric Sleeve Surgery

At 335 pounds and 368 pounds, respectively, Jake and Kami were ready to take the next step and scheduled their surgery dates.

Sleeve gastrectomy 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. For some people, one of the biggest advantages of having this surgery is that the part of the stomach where the hunger hormone originates is removed, helping reduce feelings of hunger.

“Sleeve gastrectomy is a tool,” says Jonathan R. Thompson, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, medical director of the UC Health Weight Loss Center and a UC Health bariatric surgeon. “The weight-loss surgery process begins and ends with education, training, coaching, encouragement and empathy,” he states. “I tell patients that the surgery is the easiest part. Having continual support throughout the process helps patients stay on track and be successful.”

Preparing for Surgery: Body and Mind

Before their surgery could be performed, a variety of clinical activities needed to happen. Medical testing, behavioral counseling and nutrition education had to be performed. The UC Health Weight Loss Center offers a multidisciplinary team comprised of registered dietitians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and dedicated bariatric behavioral health specialists including a nationally known clinician who specializes in psychosocial evaluation and mental health care for patients with chronic morbid obesity.

After losing her beloved mother several years earlier, Kami received counseling to help her deal with her grief and lingering emotions that triggered binge eating.

Lisa West-Smith, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and director of behavioral health services for the UC Health Weight Loss Center, met with Kami to assess her mental health needs. “When I told her that after my mom died, I gained 40 pounds, she told me that I needed to deal with my mom’s death first before moving on in the program. I was scheduled for counseling right away,” Kami says.

“We always approach the pre-surgical psychological evaluation with the intention of being helpful to our patients,” Dr. West-Smith says. “The goal is to advance them to surgery psychiatrically optimized, just as a cardiologist wants to ensure the highest level of cardiac functioning is achieved for patients before surgery.”

Dr. West-Smith continues, “When psychiatric symptoms are present and interfering with optimal functioning, our goal is to support the patient with interventions like crisis intervention referrals, short-term cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. If more frequent or in-depth treatment is required, we help patients with referrals with the goal of ultimately completing a treatment plan that prepares them to advance to surgical treatment at the top of their game psychiatrically.”

After surgery, the goal is to ensure patients maintain the same high level of mental health functionality as was achieved before surgery. Patients are seen at least three times within the first year after their surgery for support and monitoring. If any difficulties arise, such as emotional eating triggers or unexpected relationship or life stressors, short-term group and individual cognitive behavioral therapy help patients get back and stay on track long term.

“Kami and Jake are really a fantastic couple,” Dr. West-Smith says. Like many of our patients who go through the pre-surgical program and post-surgical regimen together, they have great success as they support each other all along the way.

Surgery on the Same Day

How does “couples surgery” come to be?

“My surgery was originally going to take place two weeks before Jake’s surgery,” Kami explains. “Our plan was that he was going to take care of me after my surgery, and then I would take care of him after his surgery.”

Instead, after a scheduling conflict, Jake and Kami ended up in the operating room on the same day.

“We ended up having surgery on the same day, and it actually was awesome!” Kami says. Their surgeries were performed on July 2, 2019. They fondly refer to this day as their “surgiversary,” short for “surgery anniversary.”

“We had to ask my sister to come help take care of us, but we were able to start our liquid diet at the same time which was good,” she says. Surgery on the same day allowed them to avoid the challenging situation where one was eating regular foods while the other was following a liquid diet.

Couples Weight Loss: After

Losing Weight and Changing Lifestyle Together

What is it like going through weight-loss surgery together? “Just being with someone you are close to who is having the same experience with you is great,” says Jake. “I can talk with Kami and she understands.”

Their behavior modification included eliminating some foods and drinks, such as carbonated drinks. “I definitely would not have kicked the soda (or “pop” as I call it) habit if we still had it in the house,” Kami says.

The UC Health Weight Loss Center team is available to provide tools and offer guidance. “One helpful thing they told us was to have a funeral for pop. You acknowledge that it is no longer part of your life,” Kami adds. “Hearing it this way, you get it. It’s the last day that you’re going to drink pop and it’s OK.”

Kami and Jake now enjoy using flavor packets, adding them to water. They’re also into air frying foods, a much healthier option. “We love it,” says Kami. “We air fry chicken and vegetables like Brussels sprouts.”

They enjoy zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice. “It’s never been easier because of all the healthy food options that are available today,” says Jake.

One-on-One Support

“We can’t say enough good things about the UC Health Weight Loss Center team,” Jake says. “They are your cheerleaders and support crew.”

Heather Waugh, CNP, UC Health nurse practitioner, worked with Kami after surgery. “She always had a list of ideas to help me with any problems or challenges I had. She would make suggestions, such as finding exercise videos on YouTube.”

“Kami was on track from the beginning,” Heather says. ” She was always looking for new ideas for food and exercise. She was never afraid to try new things and get outside her comfort zone.”

Ivan Bennett, UC Health physician assistant, worked with Jake. “When I first started losing weight, it was coming off fast and I would feel dizzy.” It turned out that Jake’s blood pressure was very low.

Ivan helped him understand what was happening. He told Jake that many people who have weight-loss surgery are already on blood pressure medication to treat hypertension, but no longer need it once they lose weight. In Jake’s case, he lost so much weight so quickly that his blood pressure had to “catch up.” Ivan suggested energy drinks with no sugar to combat the dizziness. It worked. “Ivan has been awesome — he helped me figure this out,” Jake says.

“Jake did a great job of understanding and implementing the process of daily diet and exercise early on,” Ivan explains. “Therefore, surgery didn’t interrupt weight loss, but rather it kept it going. He has done an excellent job being consistent with the plan we laid out for him. “

The path to successful long-term weight loss with bariatric surgery requires work before surgery and after. The UC Health Weight Loss Center team works closely with patients throughout the entire process helping to set goals and create plans that work best for them. Surgical patients have access to free lifetime support groups available before and after their procedure. 

Today, Kami and Jake have lost nearly 300 pounds combined, with Kami losing 140 and Jake losing 155. Jake has met his goal weight and Kami continues to move closer and closer to her goal weight as well.

For those who are considering weight-loss surgery, the Barnes couple have an important message: “Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” they both say. “No one gets to where they are in life completely on our own. We had teachers, we had guidance from people we learned from and we have our own experiences, too.”

Two People, One Common Goal

While Jake and Kami’s experiences with food and weight differ, they always support one another and help each other stay on track. “It’s been nice going through the stages together,” says Jake.

They also both admit that they are two different people with different approaches, perspectives and abilities. Their weight loss journeys have differed in some ways.

“I do very well with a rigid, set structure,” Jake explains. “If you give me a set of rules, I follow the rules. I do very well with that approach. I like working out, I’ve always been strong and have enjoyed lifting weights.”

He adds, “The UC Health Weight Loss Center team helps you change your behaviors and gives you a whole new set of tools before you even have the surgery. It’s like you are pre-programmed to do everything before you have the surgery. That structure fit into my jam.”

“I have learned that I enjoy going to the park when the weather is permitting, and I like to ride my stationary bike at home, too. I do some resistance training — it is not something that I really enjoy, but I still do it. I have also hired a trainer which gives me accountability. I like cardio exercise and he makes sure that I am working out three times a week. He also helped me get away from the scale, because my scale does not move as fast as I want it to. He does, however, have me measuring different body parts and I have lost 2.5 inches off my left thigh.”

Kami and Jake also do a specialized yoga program together that combines yoga, calisthenics, sports rehabilitation therapy and dynamic resistance that provides a cardio work out, increases flexibility and strengthens muscles with minimal joint impact. It’s a health and wellness activity that they enjoy doing together.

The Best Thing After Losing the Weight

“I’m in less pain,” says Kami. “My back is more managed, and I have more stamina.”

Jake agrees. “Being in less pain is definitely up there on the list. I have had bad knees and a bad back, too. All the extra weight takes a toll over time. Doing yoga and going to the gym again has definitely been great for me.”

The “happily ever after” continues on for Jake and Kami. “We like to be together. We’re able to do more things together now that we were not able to do before and that has been fun,” states Jake. “We went kayaking a lot last summer. We’d paddle, enjoy the outdoors, stop and relax along the river.”

Discover More

Learn more about the UC Health Weight Loss Center by calling 513-939-2263.