The Sarasota Police Department has had a way for the past seven years to track Sarasota County victims of Alzheimer's disease, dementia, Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders who have wandered away from their homes, leading to potentially life-threatening situations.
Now, Manatee County has the same capability.
The nationwide program that makes this possible is called Project Lifesaver.
"The heart of Project Lifesaver is a transmitter that patients wear that sends a digital signal every second that we can pick up on our eight receivers," said Sheena Byers, one of approximately 30 volunteers with Manatee County Search and Rescue, the organization implementing Project Lifesaver in Manatee County.
"These people are especially vulnerable because when they go missing they don't know they are missing," Byers said last week. "Finding them quickly is even more essential than with others. Some of these people are drawn to water and they can't swim. It usually takes many hours to find missing people. We are doing this program because we want to find these people before they get hurt."
Project Lifesaver has four clients so far in Manatee County, two children and two adults, Byers said.
"We have just started," Byers said. "I have four more on a waiting list because they need sponsors. We know there are hundreds in Manatee County who could use these devices."
The actual device that sends the signal goes on a medical band about the size of an adult wrist watch. For children, it is placed on an ankle. The band is locked and, once it is on, the only way to get it off is to cut it, Byers added.
"The device has a one-time fee of $300 and it is $15 per month from there," Byers said. "We are hoping to raise money to help people who need financial assistance to get the devices."
Byers went through a typical emergency call.
"The caregiver realizes the per
son is missing," Byers said. "They immediately call 911. We are paged out by law enforcement. We bring our receivers to the area to pick up the signal."
Boar's Head Brand, whose 150-employee corporate office is in Sarasota, helped fund Project Lifesaver in Sarasota in 2007 and is helping to fund the operation in Manatee, said Ginny Cable, Boar's Head Brand's employee and community relations manager.
But it's not just the corporation, Cable said. The Boar's Head employees also dug deep in their pockets, Cable added.
"Boar's Head employees did voluntary payroll deductions and helped pay for both counties' programs," Cable said.
Boar's Head corporate and employees combined to donate $22,000 to Manatee County, Byers said.
"We are very much involved in our communities," Byers said when asked why Boar's Head Brands backed Project Lifesaver. "This is an awesome program. These people have a transmitter so they can be found."
Boar's Head Brand lends a financial hand to Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, All Faiths Food Banks, The Salvation Army and American Diabetes Association, just to name a few of the companies' outreach targets, Cable said.
Conley RV hosts fund-raiser
In an effort to keep Project Lifesaver funded and help families in need, Manatee County Search and Rescue is hosting a Project Lifesaver Yard Sale between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. June 28 at Conley RV Center, 704 Cortez Road, Bradenton.
People who would like to help are asked to bring bric-a-brac, antiques, gently-used clothing, tools, artwork, small appliances, electronics and more to Conley RV Center between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. over the next 11 days, leading up to the June 28 fund-raiser.
"We are looking for anything but furniture or vehicles or bags of clothes," Byers said. "Everything donated is tax deductible."
Manatee County Search and Rescue is a nonprofit, whose members and meet and train regularly. Law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel make up the majority of the volunteers, Byers said.
Caregivers check the devices every day to make sure they are operational, but the volunteers from Manatee County Search and Rescue go out to change the batteries.
"We go to these houses every month and visit with these families," Byers said.
To enroll a loved one in Project Lifesaver or for more information about the program, contact Manatee County Search and Rescue by email at ProjectLifesaver@ManateeCountySAR.org or by phone at 941-254-6490, ext. 2.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.