News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Project Lifesaver is a nonprofit that helps keep your loved ones safe. (WRDW-TV)
AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW) -- It only takes a second; turn your eyes away and they're gone. If you have a parent with Alzheimer's or a child with special needs, you know that feeling all too well.
The panic to find your loved one before something happens can be overwhelming, but one organization is making the process a little easier.
It's called Project Lifesaver, and its goal is self-explanatory: save a life.
They use a radio frequency tracking system that is unaffected by weather to help find people who have a tendency to wander.
Locally, it started with adults, but now it's helping children as well.
Karen Foreman remembers the day her mom wandered away like it was yesterday.
"I got the call. I left work frantic, not knowing what to expect," Foreman said.
Her mother, Bernice Washington, has dementia. On a spring day in 2012, she left the house and didn't come back.
"I cried and I prayed that my mom would be found safely," Foreman said.
She wandered down a dirt road and into the woods. She was found, sitting on the pavement under a street sign miles from home.
"She had things with her like her doll baby, a stick, a broom," she said.
Thanks to the Project Lifesaver bracelet, it took just 58 minutes to find her.
"Time is [of] the essence when something like that happens," she said.
That's why law enforcement in Aiken County brought the Project Lifesaver program here. When the bracelet is activated, a radio frequency wave will lead deputies to its location.
"A lot of people say, well it's just a small tracking device that they put on dogs or whatever, but that small tracking device saved my mom's life," Foreman said.
The program began in 2006 starting with just a few people with Alzheimer's, but recently it's been picked up for a lot more children.
Adyson Wise is one of those children.
"We found out probably about four months into the pregnancy that Adyson was gonna have Trisomy 21, so she was gonna have Down syndrome," said Adyson's mother, Angel Wise.
Adyson is 5 years old, and like many children with a cognitive delay, she likes to wander.
"You can turn your head for one minute, and they're gone," Wise said.
It happens all the time, but for her Wise, one day it was too much.
"[It was] her birthday party, and we had it at church. There were a lot of people, a lot of kids, a lot going on," said Angel. "We had our nieces and everybody keeping on Adyson. Well nobody knew where Adyson went. We couldn't find her, and I panicked."
Adyson ended up in the boy's bathroom, but it was a feeling Wise never wanted to have again.
"I wasn't gonna be scared like that again and can't find my child," she said.
So she signed up for Project Lifesaver.
"With anybody with a cognitive delay or with Alzheimer's, its just something that you really can't control and you can't really get a grip on it sometimes," Wise said.
Adyson wears her bracelet on her ankle everyday and so does Bernice, but to their families, it's much more than just a bracelet.
"Security. It's given me peace of mind and security," Wise said.
They say the difficult thing about finding people or children with cognitive delays is that they won't necessarily call out for help.
Aiken County currently has 39 people on the program. Columbia County has the program as well.
Project Lifesaver is a nonprofit organization. Each bracelet costs around $315 plus batteries each month. There is no cost to the people who use the bracelet.
The Sertoma Clubs raise money for the program and are always looking for help with funding. They say the cost of a typical search without the bracelet can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is an international organization, so anywhere you travel that has the program,you can let them know ahead of time you are coming and they can activate the bracelet in that city.