CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Freida Smith lives up Campbell's Creek "on a road where it's so quiet at night, you can hear a bird sing half a mile away.
"Honey, I've got peace now, but I've been through the fire," she said last October. "I was a popaholic and a junk food junky and a battered wife and a heart attack about to happen, and God brought me through it all."
A lay minister at her Belle church, she preaches health. "People keep asking me how I lost all that weight, gone from size 2X to size 12, and I tell them, it's nothing but Jesus, Jesus and Cabin Creek Clinic."
"Eating has just taken over people's lives, and I want to tell people how dangerous that is to the body and the spirit," she said, raising her hands in the air. "The body and the spirit," she repeated.
She paused. "People are sick and tired of being sick and tired," she said. "They want to be delivered from food and diabetes. And I am here as proof that change is possible."
She waited a few seconds, then giggled. "I never thought I'd be this happy," she said.
Been through the fire
Thirty-six years ago, at age 27, Freida Smith left Logan County "with just a skirt and top and flip flops on my feet and two babies in my arms, running from a husband who was beating on me and my babies."
Within months, she got a job in Kanawha County caring for elderly people. For 31 years, she worked as an aide in nursing homes and rehab centers. "I loved the old people, but you have to do a lot of lifting and lugging. My knees wore out. That's when the pain started."
"For comfort, I ate. My husband brought home cases of pop. I was raised on biscuits and gravy, fried potatoes and beans, so that's what I cooked. We ate a lot of junk food. We didn't know a thing about nutrition."
She gained weight, then developed diabetes. She injured her back, lifting a heavy patient. Her weight aggravated the ruptured discs. "That big belly pulled on my spine," she said. "It was excruciating.
"I'm five feet, one, and I weighed over 200 pounds," she said. "My kids were ashamed of me. They didn't want their friends to see me. That right there killed me. I'd drive them to school, and they'd say, about a block away, 'Mom, will you drop me off up here?'
"I was so depressed, it got to where I had no control over my eating. I'd bring my chips and sit and watch television, eat the whole bag, then go get in the refrigerator even when I was full.
"I looked like I was eight months pregnant. I had to shower because I couldn't get in the bathtub. The low point was the day I couldn't go to church because I couldn't reach my feet to buckle my shoes."
Diabetes led to heart problems. She started having chest pains. After several emergency room visits, she learned she had blocked heart arteries. She had two catheterizations, but no insurance.
She was 61 years old. "I didn't know where I could go for care. I'd sit on the side of my bed at night and repeat Bible verses over and over, to calm myself down.
"Finally somebody told me about Cabin Creek Clinic."
'He listened to me'
A federally-funded health center, Cabin Creek Health Systems accepts patients whether they can pay or not. Freida Smith is one of their 14,000 patients. This clinic is nationally known for improving the health of rural patients with complex problems.
In 2010-11, for instance, caring for 400 disabled Medicaid patients, they cut in half the number of times those patients needed to go to emergency rooms and hospitals.
They practice "motivational interviewing:" They try to find what motivates the patient and use that to encourage them to do what they need to do to improve their health -- change their diet or exercise, for instance.
The first time Smith visited Cabin Creek, she saw physician assistant John Rice. "He was so kind," she said, her voice cracking. "I've been to doctors who don't look up from their computers when you talk to them, the kind who make you feel like you're nothing. John Rice looked right at me from the get-go.
"He listened to me. And he let me talk about Jesus without cutting me off.