Project Lifesaver aids in finding of elderly man

A 77-year-old St. Clair County man with dementia went missing Thursday, May 24, and was found with help from Project Lifesaver. The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department was notified of the disappearance by the wife and caregiver.

“He came to Blount County going to Snead to one of the tractor dealerships to get some parts and apparently became disoriented and confused on his location,” said Lt. Terry Sherbert, the Blount County Project Lifesaver co-coordinator.

After making two different purchases with his credit card at different Blount County gas stations, the credit card company was able to ping his transactions and give a general location of the man’s whereabouts. With this information the police were able to respond to that area and locate him.

The man was found later that night in a parking lot in Oneonta, 65 miles away from his home. After being notified, the family, who was at that time also searching, came to pick him up.

“To my knowledge, he was fine that night,” Sherbert said. “He was simply a dementia patient that had became confused and couldn’t find his way home.”

The equipment used to find the missing man was provided by Project Lifesaver, a national program used to help find missing patients suffering from, dementia, Alzheimer’s, autistic, Down’s syndrome, and other cognitive disorders.

A Project Lifesaver client has an electronic track- ing device about the size of a man’s wristwatch with them at all times attached. If the client goes missing, law enforcement will be able to track them within a mileradius on the ground and a five-mile radius in the air through a unique radio frequency specific to that client’s device. The police program the client’s frequency into their receiver and then are able to search for the patient more efficiently.

“There is a file on each client at our 911 dispatch center, and the caregivers are told if you need our services contact 911, tell them your loved one is missing, tell them the name, the last known location, and we take it from there.” Sherbert said.

Blount County implemented the program and enrolled the first client in 2005. The program now has 18 clients.

Anita Pass is the other co-coordinator of Project Lifesaver and the person who brought the idea of the program to Blount County after hearing about it on the news. At the time, she found interest in it because her mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s. Then, a local Blount County man with a cognitive disorder went missing and searches for him went on for a week.

“It just really inspired me to see what I had to do to get this going,” Pass said.

After sending letters, speaking in public about the program, and advertising over radio and through newspaper, $50,000 was raised.

“By getting that much money we knew then we could get the equipment we needed plus be able to furnish everything to the patients without it costing them anything,” she said.

With the recent success Pass is reminded of the reason she started the program, “I knew what we went through with my mother-in-law, but I couldn’t imagine a family member missing and having no earthly idea where they are, if you’ll find them or if they are alive or not,” Pass said. “I felt like if there was something we could do to take that fear away then that would be wonderful.”

Blount County’s Project Lifesaver program continues to be operated through the $50,000 that was first raised and other occasional donations. Pass said she is looking into getting a grant to update the Project Lifesaver equipment but any donations would be greatly appreciated. For more information on Project Lifesaver or how to donate, contact Anita Pass at (205) 274-2785.