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Bringing Our Loved Ones Home: Project Lifesaver Returns to McDowell County

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

MCDOWELL COUNTY, W. Va. – One of the most terrifying experiences is coming home and realizing that a loved one with Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is missing, but a recently revived program at the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office can help. 

Project Lifesaver is the premier search and rescue program operated internationally by public safety agencies, and is strategically designed for “at risk” individuals who are prone to the life threatening behavior of wandering. The primary mission of Project Lifesaver is to provide timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children with the propensity to wander due to a cognitive condition.

“When and where are the crucial questions in recovering Project Lifesaver participants,” said Gary Reynolds, Chief UAV Operations Instructor with Project Lifesaver at a course held today in Welch. “You don’t need to know what they look like, what they were wearing.”

Project Lifesaver has strategically designed methods and techniques for the specific use of recovering individuals with a cognitive condition. The method relies on proven radio technology and specially trained search and rescue teams. Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small transmitter on the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized frequency signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. The first responders will then use the client’s individualized frequency to locate the position of the individual.

Deputy Lyle Noe shared experiences with dementia patients running away from home and wandering into the nearby woods. He had similar experiences with individuals suffering from cognitive brain injuries.

“There were also times I didn’t have this system, but I really wish I did because the person didn’t survive,” said Noe. “It’s a good program,” said Becky Gianato of McDowell County 911 Center. “If people get away, you can make ground fast and bring them home.”

Sheriff James “Boomer” Muncy, Jr. is happy to have the program back in McDowell County and encourages any interested parties to contact the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office about participation at (304) 436-8523.

Project Lifesaver is a 501 (C)(3) community based, public safety, non-profit organization that provides law enforcement, fire/rescue, and caregivers with a program designed to protect, and when necessary, quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life threatening behavior of wandering. The organization was founded in 1999 in Chesapeake, Virginia. The necessity of this program was determined through the correlation between cognitive conditions and the act of wandering.  With the dramatic increase of cognitive conditions since the inception of the organization, the program has grown from a localized program to a program recognized internationally as a proven and effective method of “bringing loved ones home.”