CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After Sunday church at Shiloh Baptist, Regina Elzy slipped downstairs to Chronic Disease Self Management class. "We'd praise God, then go learn how to take care of the bodies God gave us.
"When I got home, my husband and I'd go over what we did in class, so we got a twofer," she said.
"Diabetes, we both have it," she said. "That's life, and you deal with it. We enjoy life, and we sure don't want to have a leg amputated or be on kidney dialysis.
"The class teaches you how to hold all that off. It teaches you how to lower your stress and bring your blood sugar down. So it's entirely in our interest to learn this stuff."
"This stuff" is the six-week Chronic Disease Self-Management Course created by Stanford University School of Medicine.
"Doctors can only do so much for you," John Elzy said. "You've got to do the rest. So the more you know about how to take care of yourself, the better. Information is power. That class was packed with information."
Now the Centers for Disease Control is urging states to spread the class statewide, as a way to fight obesity and chronic disease. West Virginia is "trying to figure out how to do that," said Chuck Thayer of the state Bureau of Public Health.
Since 2003, Marshall University has trained about 150 people statewide to lead the course in their own communities, at churches, fire halls, senior centers. "That's how it came to be in our church," Elzy said. "Some of our people got trained."
The people in her class had diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. "The same things helped us all: exercise, stress reduction, good eating, dealing with depression," she said. "You learn more about your disease and how to talk about it with doctors. Everyone lost a little weight."
More than 500 West Virginians have taken the class in the past two years. They rated it 4.7 out of a possible 5, according to a West Virginia University analysis. After the class, they reported they went to the doctor about half as much: 1.9 visits in three months, compared with 3.7 visits before.
"We'd read a chapter a week and set personal goals, then talk about it the next week," Elzy said. "The next week, you'd hear how people did, what worked for them. We gave each other ideas. It made you realize you're not alone."
"That class caused John and me to make changes in our daily lives," she said. "We used to eat three big meals a day, but we switched to five little ones, to keep our blood sugar level. And we started planning ways to stay active instead of leaving it up to accident. I walk down to get the newspaper every day, for instance, instead of getting it delivered."
"With as much chronic disease as we have, I don't think you can offer that class too much," said Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
The idea is to offer it where people naturally are, "instead of making them come to us," said Marshall Medical School professor Richard Crespo.
In St. Albans, Betty and Doc Halstead, both in their 80s, took it at the senior center. "Best we've had," Betty said. "Practical and useful."
In Lincoln County, Melisa Ferrell took it at the Mud River Volunteer Fire Department. "It helped me understand my husband, how his mood will change depending on what he eats and when he eats."
In Dunbar, "the people kept meeting after the class was over, because they thought it was that valuable to them," said Rev. James Patterson of the Partnership of African-American Churches.
"We've proved that West Virginians like this class, that it works, and that it can be put on for very little money," said Sally Hurst, program coordinator .
The problem: So far, the class has been offered fairly randomly. There's been no predictable schedule. The leaders have been volunteers, so the class has been offered when there was a place and willing leaders.