Supporters talk about their experiences with Project Lifesaver
In the summer of 2000 my husband and I had one of the most terrifying experiences of our lives. We are the parents of 4 sons; Alex, Matt, Tom and Jack. In 2000 our children ranged in age from 14 to 7 years old. Our son Tom was 9 that summer and had taught himself to ride a bike. Tom has fairly severe autism and is non-verbal He was then and is still to this day unable to verbally express his thoughts, unable to ask for help, unable to understand the dangers of the world.
That summer of 2000 when Tom learned to ride a bike my husband had been enjoying taking rides with the boys. He had Alex and Matt on their bikes, our youngest Jack was riding a little bike that attached to the rear of my husbands bike and Tom was on his little bike following along with his Dad and brothers and having a wonderful time. They rode around our neighborhood always safe from traffic and never far from home.
In the summer of 2000 I was working for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety as a police officer. I was at work in my cruiser when I got a call from dispatch to contact the Lt’s office. I did so and and was told that my husband had called to say that Tom was missing…and so was Tom’s bike. I rushed downtown to the Lt’s office and told them I had to go, I didn’t have time to change out of my uniform or go get my personal car- I was taking my cruiser and driving to my home less than 10 miles away. Before I left for home I burst into the Dispatch Center and went immediately to a dispatcher, Eric, and said “Eric, I need help”. It was all I could do not to cry and I told Eric that Tom was lost and I was heading home. He told me he would do all he could to help. Within minutes he had a canine heading to my home to assist in the search.
I drove the 6-7 miles home and by the time I arrived home my husband had contacted family friends who were coming from all over to help in the search. Friends were dividing up the area and calling each other on their cell phones with updates. My husband was standing in the driveway of our home giving out his description of Tom to the police officer who worked in our area , Kalamazoo Township. I talked briefly with my husband and friends agreeing that Matthew would stay home and man the phone while the rest of us departed to try and find Tom.
It was getting late in the afternoon when I started searching for my son. It was a grey day and it was starting to drizzle. I knew Tom would not have taken a coat with him. I knew Tom would not stop for any stop signs or traffic lights. I knew Tom would not ask for help. We live in a lovely neighborhood where people watch out for kids on bikes. But our neighborhood is surrounded by 2 lane roads where people travel at 40-55 miles per hour and the roads are curved and hilly. We also live in a neighborhood that is adjacent to 2 large ponds. I was focusing my search on the area around the ponds convinced that Tom may well have decided to stop his bike and go out and look for a boat – like the boat his Grandpa had that Tom loved to ride on.
I can’t say for sure how long I was searching, I think it was 15- 20 minutes into my search when I got a call on my car radio that Tom was found. My wonderful friend Jody had called her husband Paul and asked him to come and help. She told Paul that she had taken 14th Street to get to our house so she thought Paul should take 12th Street and start looking for Tom when he got close to our neighborhood. Paul was heading towards our house on 12th and had just passed through a busy intersection 4 miles from my home when there on the side of the road was Tom, still peddling hard on his bike. Paul pulled over and went to Tom who was scared,confused and cold. Paul called Jody who relayed the information and my dispatcher called me. I pulled over and cried, I can’t tell you the relief I felt.
We knew that it could very likely happen again and we started searching for something that would help us track Tom and locate him if he was lost again. Back then GPS was fairly new and not available for our purposes. Eventually we found out that Project Lifesaver was coming to our area and we were among the first to sign up. Every month an officer came to our home and changed the battery on Tom’s Project Lifesaver Bracelet. We had a small tester that sat on our counter and we regularly tested the device to make sure it was working. We had the special frequency code to Tom’s bracelet written in big letters on the white board on our refrigerator. We were trained that if Tom were missing that we FIRST call the police and then continue searching. We knew that every minute counted and we wanted to have the officer with the Project Lifesaver equipment enroute to our home as soon as possible. After getting his bracelet there were a few occasions when we could not find Tom, called the police and before they could arrive we had located Tom. Tom grew attached to the police officers, Pat Burnham and Justin Cary, and they became Tom’s friend’s.
In 2014, after nearly 15 years of Tom wearing his special bracelet, we made the decision that we could exit the Project Lifesaver Program and allow another family to have our slot. Tom has grown up to be a little more verbal but best of all Tom grew up and became interested in staying with us when we are out together.
The nearly 15 years of peace of mind our family felt because of Project Lifesaver is impossible to describe. From the terror of not knowing if my son would wander away and be hurt or killed to the comfort of knowing that if Tom were lost we had a way to find him and save him from harm. I think perhaps Project Lifesaver could adopt the old commercial adage” Project Lifesaver Training: $5000 a year. Bracelets, transmitters and batteries: $3000 a year. Peace of mind to Families: Priceless.”
I know I speak for myself and my husband Matthew when I say thank you Project Lifesaver from the bottom of our hearts for the years of peace of mind you gave us….like Tom, you are priceless.
Great testimonial’s for the 2014 Great Nonprofit Award!! Thank you to everyone that shared your kind words!!
“As a veteran of the NYPD, as well as the father of an autistic daughter, I was extremely happy to learn of Project Lifesaver, in 2008. I introduced the program to my local law enforcement agency, which they happily adopted and have been so impressed by Gene and his agency that I have made it my mission to bring Project Lifesaver to as many municipalities as I can.”
I want to share with Mr. Gene Saunders and Project Lifesaver International my article that I wrote about my daughter, autism awareness and Project Lifesaver. We all need to have more autism awareness. We all need to stand together in this. Please read my article. We are so blessed that our County (St Croix County) has Project Lifesaver. God Bless Y’all.
My son has Down Syndrome and autism, both of which have high incidents of eloping. We got a bracelet for my son over 2 years ago and never had to use it. Today, however, he was missing for more than 30 minutes. The police dispatch was quick to get men out on the scene and to try to track him. Thankfully he ran past a friend from church’s house before the police got there. But I am so greatful that he had on the bracelet. If he had gone the other way or into the woods by our house, it could have been disastrous without the bracelet. Thank you for helping to keep my child safe. He disappeared in less than 3 minutes time. Ten dollars a month is the cheapest health and life insurance policy available! It is worth 10 MILLION per month to my family.
As a parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’m so glad I live in an area which provides continuous training in autism to its local police force. I give thanks to U.S. Deputy Marshal, Nick Proffitt, Retired Officer, Bryan Lawrence (RCPD) and Retired Lt., Susan Camper (RCPD) for initiating this vital training and to Crime Prevention Specialist, Officer Travis Akins (RCPD) for continui…ng this training in conjunction with Commonwealth Autism Service, not only in our area but throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thanks also to Didi Zaryczny, Public Safety Work Group Coordinator with Commonwealth Autism Service (CAS) and CAS, for making this initiative one of its top priorities, working in partnership with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and Virginia Department of Health. Thanks to Chief Gene Saunders and other staff of Project Lifesaver International for helping to “bring loved ones home.” And, last but definitely not least, thanks to Dennis Debbaudt, Founder of Autism Risk and Safety Management, who graciously has provided guidance for the training curriculum for first responders not only in our state but worldwide. Blessings to you all!!!
-Shirl Williamson Light of Virginia
Project livesaver gave me such peace of mind when my husband, Dan was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease…whenever I hear of a missing Alzheimer’s patient, I am so disheartened. I don’t understand why more people don’t know or take advantage of project livesaver..I used the program for several years while we were caring for my husband at home and continued while he was in a nursing facility until he was unable to walk…It really eased my mind to know if God forbid he did wander and become lost, he could be quickly tracked and safely returned…I am willing to help bring awareness to Project lifesaver anyway I can…
ps..my husband was only 50 years old when he was diagnosed…
I felt compelled to share a local story that may be helpful to share with families considering Project Lifesaver.
An eight-year-old non-verbal autistic boy was missing in the woods for six days last week. He did not have Project Lifesaver. If he wasn’t found on the sixth day, he wouldn’t have survived the freezing temperatures and sleet coming that night. In addition to trained professionals, there were 6,000 volunteers searching for Robert, and my husband was on a volunteer search team for one day. My husband said a firefighter on his search team had never heard of Project Lifesaver.
This story really makes a case for the lifesaving ability a device like yours can provide, which is why I wanted to pass this on to you if you didn’t already know about this story.
More details are on this news website.
-Cheryl Dunn, Henrico, VA
My grandson Jack age 4 diagnosed at 2 with Autism and epilepsy, has been wearing a bracelet for over a year. He is non-verbal, and is at risk for wandering. The bracelet gives us some peace of mind should he ever get outside alone. Thank you for this wonderful service!
-Debra, Coral Springs, FL
This is a wonderful program, My Mom is 79-years-old and went missing for 21 long hrs,all turned out well,but that 21 hours seemed like a week. If I can share my story and it helps one family not to go through what we did I will be more than glad to. Best Wishes and God Bless.
-Benita Gabriel, Conroe,Texas
My daughter wandered away three times before we found out about PLS. Fortunately, the first two times were in a store and if we had to we could have contained her, but fortunately were able to find her hiding place quickly. She was very fast and you had to hold onto her constantly. We lived in fear every day. She was three years old and non-verbal. The third incident happened at a relatives’ home. I allowed a family member to watch her while I helped with the dishes. It couldn’t have been a minute later and I saw the family member and asked where she was. The answer came back as, “I think she’s…and the rest didn’t matter! What do you mean, “I think”? Honestly, do they not get it? I’ve drilled them constantly! These were the thoughts that raged through my head as I panicked and could not find her. I immediately ran outside to find her in the next door neighbor’s yard to the side and behind us. Thankfully, the family there had a son that worked with PLS and I did not hesitate to participate in the program.
I am very happy to report that we never had an incident when we had to call upon you, however, having that extra sense of security meant the world to us! We went on vacation a couple of times and each time our County personnel contacted the agencies along our route and notified them along with giving us the proper emergency contacts should we need them. Each month when they came to change her battery they really engaged with her and not simply with me! Well done guys, well done!
I volunteer a lot of my time now to educate others about autism. PLS is always my favorite resource to include in my presentation! God bless you for all you do.
-Deborah, Atlanta, Georgia, July 3, 2011
My daughter is now 4 years old and high functioning autistic. She doesn ‘t understand stranger danger or car danger or realize that she is wandering off or that jumping in water and not knowing how to swim is bad. Because of this and so many more we have now been with project lifesaver for a year. Thankfully I have not had to use it yet, came close.. but not yet. If I do I know that I will have them here to rely on and they will find my daughter quickly, it gives you the peace of mind that is hard to find when you have a child that has special needs and is a runner.
-Michelle Morton, June 28, 2011
I just wanted to say Thank you! I wrote several years ago about my son, Caleb, who is now 7 with Down Syndrome. Project Lifesaver has saved my son! The program has not only helped keep my son safe from wondering off and getting lost but they have also helped train my entire community on how to change the battery, locate loved ones and safety in general. Each time I put the bracelet on, I am filled with an extra dose of peace. Thank you for all your help and everything that you are doing to keep everyone safe.
Thank you for your assistance in ensuring my fathers safety.
He is now in the last stage of Alzheimer’s. During the earlier stages when he was quite busy your program gave me peace of mind should my Dad have lost his way.
With Deep Gratitude,
-Theresa Smith, March 16,2011
Project Lifesaver is an important tool that our Division of Police has in their repertoire to see to the needs of some of our “special” citizens. A few years ago, Project Lifesaver was an unknown quantity to the Division. With the guidance of the fine folks at Project Lifesaver International, Namely Tommy Carter, Chief of Training, Gene Saunders, Chief Executive Officer & Founder and Sharon Proffitt, Comptroller (Special Friend) and the folks who work in their supply and equipment operations, are all very professional and caring in their relationships with those they serve.
-Emil J. Stecki, Coordinator
Brunswick Division of Police
March 2, 2011
I commend this county for getting this program. Our county Sheriff started this program 3 years ago at my request to protect my son who was then 3 years old. My son was the first one to receive a bracelet, and since then 14 other people have them. Three of our surrounding counties have started this program too! I have had close calls with my son, 2 in the past week but so far we haven’t had to call the police to search for him. I wish every community nationwide had this program so that all our loved ones would be safe no matter where we took them. Maybe someday. Until then thank you to the communities who value our special needs loved ones enough to offer this little added peace of mind. I refuse to move any where that doesn’t have this program, that is how important it is to me and my family. You guys deserve ALL the credit for keeping our loved ones safe. I am so grateful for this program, and grateful that our sheriff was so quick on starting it in our community when it was brought up to him. Keep up the good work. You guys really do save lives. Thank you Project Lifesaver for bringing our loved ones home!
-Jennifer Williams, September 1, 2010
Thank you for all you do. Your program, Project Lifesaver, has benefited many families. Our son, Mathew Frank, passed away 4 years ago and because of you and Sgt. Tim Sutton, Mathew’s amazing spirit and Sgt. Sutton’s big heart, many new counties in the metro Richmond area got on board with your program.
We included a picture of our son Mathew Frank and Sgt Sutton as they appeared in several newspapers as well as local news stations and remember Project Lifesaver with a special place and an important role in every community. You can find the picture at www.resourceconnectioninc.org on the “In honor of” page.
-Joanna Frank, June 7, 2010
Many times I’m asked why I keep Nathan in the Project Lifesaver program as he is now 18 and is very verbal and being “a walking GPS” as he is keenly aware of his surroundings and knows how to get home from school and everywhere else we go in Hampton Roads.
I answer them by saying that Nathan will probably always wear his transmitter as it not only gives me “peace of mind” but it actually gives Nathan “peace of mind” as he’s always felt “safe” when he wears it.
I still remember the night you came to our house back in December, 1999 to enroll Nathan in the program. Even at that young age, Nathan was very aware that wearing the transmitter was important as we stressed to him that it would keep him safe…..I guess that’s why he feels so secure when wearing it!
I don’t say it often enough, but thank you for enrolling Nathan in Project Lifesaver and for allowing me to be a part of this most wonderful program!
I still get so excited when talking with a parent about what a great program we have!
-Sharon Proffitt, May 10, 2010
My name is Brandi Fletcher and I am the oldest sister of a recipient of the services of Project Lifesaver. I just wanted to take a moment and thank all of those involved with this wonderful program. My sister is an 8 year-old with Down Syndrome and has a tendency to “explore out of our limits” sometimes. This service has put a tremendous amount of ease in my family’s heart knowing that if Audrey decides to wander off, we have quick intervention before it could be too late. Thank you again and I hope the funding for this program continues on.
-Brandi M. Fletcher, March 5, 2010
I am a proud supporter of Project Lifesaver International. I will continue lobbying for the installment of Project Lifesaver International programs in all communities throughout the world. Every community is affected by someone who may wander, become lost, disoriented, or run off, whether it be from Alzheimers’, dementia, Autism Spectrum disorders or a number of other challenges. All communities across the world deserve the basic peace and safety PLI will ensure. Also, first responders and communities will find enacting saves not only peace of mind, but money and resources. When someone goes missing, most often police and other first responders are called away from other duties for search efforts. Whole communities, and dogs often come in and search. With PLI, the person can be found quickly, safely and with the community being less dependent on volunteers and services of police and others on and off duty. With the rapid and widely spread growth of autism spectrum disorders and related disorders, it is responsible, logical and reasonable to get Project lifesaver enacted as soon as possible in all our communities. All people deserve to be safe and to have some peace of mind. I have read so many testimonials and met people who have the service of Project Lifesaver and they are forever grateful for it. PLI saves lives!
-Emily Malabey, President, ICAA
First steps? I will never forget. My husband – who has Lewy Body Disease – started wandering. After getting lost more than 12 times I knew I had to do something. Once we had to remove him from the middle of a US Rt 5 during 5:00 PM rush hour. You don’t forget something like that.
I had tried everything – cell phones, GPS, child locaters, if it was available I looked in to it – found nothing usable. After finding yet more dead ends I sent a PANIC e-mail to everyone in my address book.
I got one response, telling me about Project Lifesaver and how it had been used by snowmobilers and 4 wheelers up in the Adirondacks here in NYS. I was told there was also a small local chapter in Oneida County.
I joined Project Lifesaver (PLI) that day and started hounding the Sheriff in Oneida County from the contact I found on PLI’s web site. He was so kind, but kept insisting he could not help me because I was in Onondaga County and I must contact the sheriff there. I didn’t want to hear this – I only wanted a bracelet to keep my husband safe – and I really didn’t care where it came from.
After listening to me umpteen times he said OK – I will see what I can do. Thus was my introduction with Undersheriff Warren Darby. He called me, and they came to our home. Within just a few minutes the decision was made to introduce PLI into Onondaga County – the only problem was the county had no money to start another program. Together we had to find funding.
I had worked in the legal and insurance end of the industry for 35 years prior to my retirement so I knew a few people. Phone calls started going back and forth and eventually reached Senator DeFrancisco.
In the mean time a letter had been written to our local newspaper about an autistic child getting lost. I called the paper and they put me in touch with the child’s Grandmother. She in turn introduced me to the child’s Mother who is on the board at Casey’s Place – a respite site of challanged children. She thought maybe they would have some money available it she could get a bracelet for her son who is autistic.
Together, with my husband and daughter, the Undersheriff, and the Mother we got an appointment with the Senator. He listened to us for about 5 minutes and asked “How much money do you need?” The first budget was prepared and we asked for $17K.
Within less than 6 months he brought us $25K and called us a news conference with all the local media in attendence. As they say – “The rest is history.” Today – just 4 years later we have 56 bracelets out in the county and 6 Deputies ready, willing, and able to help us as needed – in addition to bringing at least 10 more NY Counties on board.
My husband has come to love the Deputies’ and Warren so much he called them “MY Guys” he knew they would help him when he got lost again. Now “My Guys” will carry him on his final trip ‘Home”.
Warren and I have stood shoulder to shoulder from day one. We continue to go out into the community and do on the spot Presentations about PLI. Our money today comes from local Rotary Clubs, Lyons Clubs, local PBA’s, Vol FF, EMS workers and such. We keep enough on hand so no family has to go without. We give the bracelet and a years’ worth of batteries if the need is there.
I will never forget my PLI story and all the wonderful things Gene Saunders and Warren Darby have done for my husband and myself – nor will I ever find the words to say Thank You to them for all they have done and continue to do on a daily basis for not only my family but for all the PL families throughout the USA!
Thank you again for all your help – I will be there every step of the way if I am needed.
Be well, and please stay in touch.
I wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the new recruits regarding my son Deric, who is on the Project Lifesaver program.
I can not tell you enough how important this program is to us.
Deric has Autism and has no understanding of danger, such as crossing the street, walking on the railroad tracks or checking out a detention pond or even getting into a vehicle with a stranger.”
We did this here in Cherokee County Georgia for my son with autism. The great thing was, we all go to know our local police officers and they got to know my son. They had a game-plan in place in case he ever went missing. It was so detailed they even had one if he went missing from his school. The officers really started to understand my son, and I’ll tell you, that was peace of mind for us! Also, it was provided at no cost to us!! I highly recommend the program!