Three years ago, Laura Rose weighed 360 pounds and had osteoarthritis in her knees that impaired her ability to walk properly. After falling at a friend's home, she tore all of the ligaments in one of her knees and had to leave her job as a teacher to go on disability.
Thanks to Hans Kai, a program offered by NorWest Co-op Community Health that focuses prevention, the 56-year-old has been able to lose weight. Because of that transformation, she was able to get knee surgeries that have restored her mobility and independence.
"The way I move now compared to three years ago is phenomenally different," Rose said. "A lot of that has to do with the support of Hans Kai."
Launched by NorWest five years ago, Hans Kai was developed in Japan. It is a health-management program based on the idea if people spend time together monitoring their health, they will live longer, healthier lives.
There are 10 groups in the city, each consisting of eight to 15 people. After taking a six-week health course, members decide where, when and how often they want to meet.
What the groups discuss and do together is largely up to them, as long as it includes a discussion about health indicators such as blood pressure, blood sugar and waist measurement, a fun movement or exercise together and eating a healthy snack.
Rose and her group meet once a week at her church to discuss their health concerns, share recipes and talk about health-related items that come up in the news.
"Hans Kai is empowering for me and it came at a time when I really needed it," Rose said.
Empowering people to take ownership of their health is what the program is all about, says Mike Sadlowski, a health promoter at NorWest.
"A lot of people wait for the doctor to give them bad news before they make lifestyle changes," he said. "For them to be able to connect with somebody and make those changes on their own, without someone telling them they have to do it, is huge."
He adds Hans Kai is made possible by money NorWest receives from United Way, which has funded Hans Kai since it started in Winnipeg in 2010. The program has been so successful, communities across Canada are adopting it.
"If we didn't have the United Way, a program like this wouldn't exist," Sadlowski said.
Rose is certainly thankful for Hans Kai. Her health used to take a backseat to her busy life, but now it's a priority. She exercises every day, has lost 120 pounds, started volunteering at her church and is preparing to go back to work.