Truly the gift that keeps on giving

Truly the gift that keeps on giving

When an Alzheimer’s patient wanders from home – or an autistic child slips away from a parent in the grocery – it can be a matter of life and death.

Families throughout the country face such emergencies every day and, when special assistance isn’t available, such situations sometimes don’t have happy endings. But thanks to Project Lifesaver – and a hefty $67,000 donation by the Energizers retiree organization in the past three years – people in Alabama with cognitive disabilities can now be found quickly.

“Project Lifesaver is such a huge thing for us because the average search is nine hours for someone who’s missing, who isn’t wearing a Project Lifesaver transmitter bracelet,” said Cpl. Kent Smith, an Alabama State Trooper Aviation Unit tactical officer, who oversees the program. “For someone with the transmitter on, the search is reduced to 15 to 30 minutes, which is amazing. It’s the difference between them either going home or to the hospital, or sometimes even life or death.”

Proof in the numbers

As of May 2015, nearly 3,000 lost people in the U.S. – many suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism or Down syndrome – have been located through Project Lifesaver. It’s all made possible with a Project Lifesaver bracelet, which has a unique transmitter frequency. During a search, the pilot programs that frequency into the helicopter’s receiving unit.

“When we turn on the unit, we’re listening for a ‘chirp,’” said Smith, who works in tandem with Chief Pilot Lee Hamilton during rescue missions. “So when we hear that chirp, we know this person is within the range of the receiver. We start scanning real slowly, and if the chirp starts dissipating a little bit, we can tell we’re moving away from the strongest signal.” From there, the pilot goes back to where the signal is strongest, enabling him to fine-tune the person’s location.

“We’ve had numerous finds throughout the state due to this program alone,” said Smith, whose father has Alzheimer’s. “This program is one we cannot do without. Alabama Power Energizers have been a huge part of this program, raising money so we can sponsor counties and put bracelets on people who need them.”

It costs about $4,000 to start Project Lifesaver in a county. That amount covers locator bracelets for about $300 each, antennas that cost about $1,500 and employee training.

“We want to raise enough money so that we can bring the service to counties that don’t have it,” he said. “Our goal is to provide the bracelets to everyone who needs one.” Alabama sheriffs provide the bracelet to people in need, at no cost to needy families.

State poised to make history

“Energizers put their hearts and souls into this,” said Energizers State President Bob O’Daniel. Because of the Energizers, Smith said, Alabama is on track to be the first state to have all counties equipped and trained.

“And we plan to make it,” O’Daniel said. Only Bibb, Bullock, Choctaw, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Lamar and Perry counties lack the service among Alabama’s 67 counties. Several Alabama Power business office managers in Mobile are leading the charge to bring the program to Choctaw County in 2015.

The cause is dear to O’Daniel, whose mother had Alzheimer’s. “I know the extreme difficulties that families go through,” he said.

The Energizers’ alliance with Project Lifesaver began in 2012, when O’Daniel and Energizers Coordinator Don Franklin met with Smith and Lee Hamilton. Energizers mobilized to assist with myriad of fundraisers such as chapter auctions and Priester’s pecan pie sales.

“Our members have been really devoted to helping Project Lifesaver,” O’Daniel said. “I’ve been to at least a dozen Energizers meetings where members have come up and handed me a Lifesaver donation. Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems affect so many people. Everyone either knows someone who has had Alzheimer’s or has a family member who is affected. It’s really stressful for families.” He noted that, within the past year, by working with Smith, Energizers provided a Lifesaver bracelet to the spouse of a Corporate Chapter member.

Helping one family at a time

Tommy Carter, chief operating officer for Project Lifesaver national headquarters in Chesapeake, Va., said he can’t thank Energizers enough for helping bring families’ loved ones home.

“For the Energizers to make this contribution, that is invaluable to the communities and the individuals who need this program,” he said. “If there were not organizations such as this, people would be lost and not found. I can’t tell you how many times I searched for my dad who had Alzheimer’s. The need for this really hits home.”

As more Alabamians are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the need for Project LifeSaver will grow, Smith said. More than 93,000 people statewide suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama. Meanwhile, one child in 67 is diagnosed with autism.

“We are not going to stop until every person in our state that needs it has the opportunity to get a bracelet, because lives are at risk,” Smith said.

This post was originally published on Alabama NewsCenter.