ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Many people are on the treadmill trying to be healthier as part of their New Year's resolutions. But for one local man, that path to fitness meant losing over 200 pounds.
Andrew Sansardo never looked like his twin brother. He was twice his size and born with a condition that made his knees turn inward. The genetic combination ultimately took a huge toll on his life.
"Being overweight, I had everybody calling me fat," Andrew said. "Back then it was acceptable to be beat up on because you were different from everyone else."
Forty years later, Andrew still remembers the pain, not only from the taunting, but also from trying to run with severe knock knees. By the time he was in his mid-teens, his weight had ballooned to well over 300 pounds.
"I was that kid that stayed in the room, I didn't really leave until I was 16, 17 years old. I was a loner and didn't really do a lot," he said."Growing up and having that lack of self-esteem, the weight just kept on gaining, and gaining and gaining."
Then when Andrew was 25 he lost his father to congestive heart failure. But it wasn't until his mother died, years later, that he hit rock bottom.
"The day after she passed away, I was like, 'I'm going to the gym,' because I wasn't going to die at an early age. I was not going to be my parents," he said.
Andrew walked into that gym at 413 pounds.
"The first day I got on a treadmill, it was 3 minutes. I got off , held my chest and thought this is horrible," he remembers. "Next day, got up and I was like, 'I'm gonna do five minutes.'"
With one foot in front of the other, he lost 70 pounds that first year.
"I was watching what I ate, watching what I was drinking and actually was exercising a little bit more, and every day it just kept getting better," he said.
It got better, except for his knock knees, which by then had contorted inward over 30 degrees.
"I'm on pain medication, arthritis medication, I'm on Advil. I'm popping them like they're M&M's.
"He was just that determined," his girlfriend Andrea Flynn remembers. "And I was like, 'aren't you in pain?' and he was like, 'yeah but I have to do this. I have to keep going.'"
Andrew pushed through the pain to lose over 200 pounds, a healthy enough weight for doctors to finally operate on his congenital knee condition. Except none of them wanted to perform a bilateral knee replacement on a guy so young.
"I probably met with half a dozen doctors and each one said no," Andrew said. Until doctors at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights said yes. His double knee replacement took just over seven hours.
With his girlfriend and twin brother at his side, he stood on his new knees for the first time the next day. He stood up and took a few steps, and his brother burst into tears and hugged him.
"For the first time in 45 years, I wasn't in pain," Andrew said.
The next few weeks were spent at the hospital's new rehabilitation care unit. Back on the treadmill, he found strength in his new knees, and even asked for extra time at the gym.
Now he's literally running with it, entering races he previously could only dream of finishing. Andrew joked that he is not only feeling better than ever, but also has gained an extra inch in height, due to his straight knees and legs finally in alignment. Finally, at 45, Andrew says he's living a life he never imagined would be his.
"I've never felt so humbled about something I've ever received," Andrew said. "It's like being given a gift."