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Project Lifesaver saves lives, costs [04/16/2008]

Project Lifesaver saves lives, costs

SHELBY - Karen Costner knows her father sometimes wanders, especially at night.

But she's not as worried about his safety now that he's enrolled in Project Lifesaver.

"I sleep just a little bit better at night," she said.

Project Lifesaver is a program administered by the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office that supplies patients who have a tendency to wander with a tracking bracelet.

So far there are six transmitters on patients in Cleveland County, but Sheriff's Lt. Wayne Thomas wants more.

"A lot of these people have been prisoners in their own home because they were afraid to get out," said Thomas.

The program costs participants $20 a month for a service fee that ensures the bracelet's batteries are changed out on time and that caregiver questions are answered. Thomas also keeps up-to-date photos of each patient on file.

The program is in place in 42 states and Canada, and the bracelets each have an FM frequency that law enforcement officials can track using special equipment to find the missing person, Thomas said.

Ideal participants are patients who wander - those with Alzheimer's, autism, Down syndrome and people with brain injuries; however, the bracelets aren't needed for patients who are bedridden, Thomas said.

Having a relative with dementia can affect your whole life, including tasks as simple as shopping trips, Costner said.

When her father was in his 20s, he would walk and hitchhike to Shelby. She's concerned that he may try to do that again or that he may try to walk back to his homeplace, she said.

In the event that a participant gets lost or wanders away, the program has a less than 30-minute recovery rate, Thomas said.

"It (the bracelet) picks up and lets people know, ‘I'm here,'" she said.

The program is primarily to save lives, but both Thomas and the county's assistant fire marshal Perry Davis agree that it can help cut search costs.

The county averages about six full-blown searches a year, from juveniles to the elderly, each of which can cost into the thousands, Daivs said.

"It will definitely enhance our search efforts," he said.

As for Costner, she's pleased with her decision.

"People out there need to know that it's there. It won't stop them from wandering, but it can help you find them before they meet a wrong end," she said. "What is this little bit of money out of your pocket every month, compared to the life of your loved one?" she said.

To enroll in the program, call Lt. Wayne Thomas at the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department at 704-484-4888.

ON THE WEB

Project Lifesaver: www.projectlifesaver.org

Cleveland County Sheriff's Office Project Lifesaver page: http://www.sheriffclevelandcounty.com/ProjectLifesaver.php


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