When Rosie Murrell first came through the doors at the Hope & Healing Center, operated by the Church Health Center, she had a specific goal in mind: lose enough weight to qualify for bariatric surgery. Rosie had been seriously overweight her whole life, at one point weighing 437 pounds.

She wanted that surgery any way she could get it, so much so that the fact that she had been diabetic for 20 years, and had eventually increased her insulin intake to over 100 units, wasn’t even her biggest concern. She also had uncontrolled high blood pressure and was working on degenerative joint disease.

“My doctor was pushing exercise, and told me he wouldn’t do the surgery if there was more than a 50 percent chance I’d die on the table,” Rosie said. She’d begun to lose weight before she began at Hope & Healing, though the starvation diet she’d worked out wasn’t really working.

“When (the wellness counselor) told me I’d have to increase my calories” to keep losing weight, Rosie said, “I cried and cried.”

But with her Hope & Healing counselors, Rosie worked out a meal plan she could live with, starting with making a list of what she was eating every day, then every week. Slowly, slowly, things began to change.

“If I used to eat three or four candy bars a week, I’d only eat two,” she said. “Every time I dropped a candy bar, I’d add a fruit or a vegetable.” If she wanted ice cream, she’d eat a small cup, rather than a large bowl, and not every day. She put her food on smaller plates, instead of filling up a larger one.

“I couldn’t tell you when I stopped eating junk,” she said. “But I realized that if I’m going to do this, I can’t have my cake and eat it, too.” Her obsession with bariatric surgery began to fade.

She began exercising — “I do an hour of cardio every day,” she says now, along with core strengthening classes — and leaned on her friends in the Hope & Healing wellness classes and wellness coordinator Sharon Tagg for support.

Everything, from her grocery list to what she cooks for her family, is different. She says she allows herself as much as a five-pound weight gain, without “going off the deep end.” If she does gain weight, she knows she’ll be able to get back on track: “This is a lifetime change, not a fad diet,” she says.

Perhaps most astonishing, though, is what has happened over the last three months: Rosie has stopped taking insulin completely. “It’s as if I wasn’t a diabetic at all,” she says. “My health has improved so, so much.” She’s lost nearly 200 pounds, and is a size 18, and is still working to lose weight, even though “I’m smaller than I’ve ever been.”

It’s not just Rosie’s health and dress size that have changed: She travels around the country doing diabetes education for a pharmaceutical company, after having completed a training class — and her first plane flight ever — in Kansas City. “I look so small in my graduation pictures,” she said.

But “I always carry my ‘before’ pictures with me.” For the people struggling with their weight and with diabetes, it’s helpful to have a visual aid, she says. “My face is different now, but you can see it was me.”

Though she rejoices that she’s a “living, breathing statistic,” the pictures also remind her that “I won’t go back there.”

Rosie is 47, and says she is living her teen years over again, this time without the depression and rejection she remembers from being a 300-pound high schooler.

“I’m living a life I never lived before,” she says.