Edvina Washington of Hilton Head Island is "VIM's Biggest Loser."
She has lost the most weight in a new Volunteers in Medicine Clinic program that is powered by the Fitbit "wireless activity tracker."
The gadget measures steps taken and calories burned each day. It has taken over a lot of people's lives as they obsess over meeting goals.
And now the item that retails for $59.95 -- not even the cost of a Band-Aid in today's health care world -- is dramatically changing how patients care for themselves.
It has energized a wellness program at VIM, the clinic in Northridge where retired medical professionals and others volunteer to ensure that everyone who lives or works on Hilton Head or Daufuskie islands has access to free health care.
The Fitbit program, which began in October, has grown to almost 150 participants who have collectively walked 34,098 miles and lost 439 pounds as of June 30.
Washington, who is on disability and uses a cane due to arthritic knees, has walked 469.06 miles and lost 23 pounds.
"You feel good after you do it," she said. "The Fitbit encourages me to do more."
She now finds it easier to get up in the morning, and she thinks the walking and weight loss could keep her from having to get a knee replacement.
Washington's total steps last week dipped to 34,803 because she is now helping to watch her ill mother, Flossie Washington. Edvina was reared on Daufuskie, where her late father, Jake Washington, was an island legend. Her brother Sherman was one of Pat Conroy's Daufuskie students.
Washington and everyone in the walking program report to the clinic each Thursday afternoon. They are weighed, data are pulled from their Fitbits, and they discuss wellness topics. This week, retired registered dietitian Betty Amer talked about hydrating through fruits and vegetables. She often stresses eating beans and rice rather than meat.
Julie Copp, the director of patient care, said VIM has had a weight-loss program for at least 10 years. But nothing has shown the results that Fitbit has.
"It's concrete for them," she said. "They are very enthusiastic about it."
On Thursday evenings, they walk as a group at Jarvis Creek Park.
Dr. Patrick Burns, who works with hypertension and diabetic patients each Thursday at VIM, said the walking program has meant less medication.
"The best thing for diabetes is to lose weight," he said.
Lisa N. Drakeman of Hilton Head, a biotech entrepreneur and retired CEO now chairing the VIM board, said the program started with a grant from the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. It targeted cardiovascular health in women.
She was shocked to discover that 90 percent of the clinic's patients over age 35 are at risk of cardiovascular disorders. The clinic was looking for ways patients could take charge of their own health.
Walking was a natural, because it can be done anywhere, and it does not require special clothing, a gym membership or complicated instructions.
Lisa and her husband, Don Drakeman, donated 40 Fitbit Zips to the cause, while snapping a couple of them to their own bodies. They have now increased that donation to 100 Fitbits.
She said that type of pedometer was chosen because it holds a week's worth of data, it does not have to be linked to a computer or smart phone, and users can see results instantly.
"You can't lie to yourself," Lisa Drakeman said. "You're either walking or you are not."
And at the end of the week, the biggest losers are rewarded as winners.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.