The parents of a 7-year-old Seymour girl with special needs hope to find some peace of mind with a new program Seymour Police Department recently put into place.
Project Lifesaver helps provide a faster response time when locating children and adults with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, dementia or Down syndrome, who may have wandered away from family or other caregivers.
The program is something Seymour residents Susan and Andrew Combs say they believe will benefit them as they raise their 7-year-old daughter, Alisen.
Story continues below gallery
Ali’s disorders include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD).
The couple also have a 23-year-old son, Raymond Combs, who lives in West Lafayette.
Raymond first found out about Project Lifesaver when he was talking to some officers in Seymour who knew of his sister’s conditions.
The family knew right away the program would be beneficial for them.
“My husband and I were talking about how amazing that would be and how great it could be for people with other health issues as well, like Alzheimer’s,” Susan Combs said. “It doesn’t just have to be for autistic kiddos like Ali, but for those with ADHD and who are prone to run.”
“Some kids are on the side of the spectrum that they just want their space,” the stay-at-home mom said. “But Ali is on the side of the spectrum to where she is very touchy-feely and doesn’t know a stranger, very friendly to people,” Susan said.
That’s one reason the Combs family wants to participate in Project Lifesaver, because Ali will talk to anyone, Susan added.
Officer Chadd Rogers said he knows of several local families interested in the program and realizes firsthand the importance of Project Lifesaver because his son has autism.
The program requires participants to wear a wristband transmitter, so if they wander off, a search team can use receivers to locate them quickly.
Rogers said he would like the department to have at least 20 transmitters to have enough for people wanting to be in the program.
“The cost is $350 for each transmitter, then extra batteries and the bands are everything we’d need for one year of service,” Rogers said. “The instructor told us to expect around 15 participants for the size of Seymour, but since this is for all of Jackson County, I’m not sure what to expect.”
Lt. John Watson, who is working with Rogers to establish the program, said the hope is enough funding can be obtained so clients will not have to pay for the transmitters.
“It all depends on how much money is raised, because just getting the initial equipment will be the big hurdle,” he said.
The receivers needed to pick up the signal emitted by the transmitters each cost about $1,100.
The Arc of Jackson County has donated two receivers and two transmitters along with some extra bands, Watson said.
“We are hoping to raise enough money for one more receiver so they could be used in searching in a triangular range so the person being searched for could be zoned in on faster,” he said.
The Arc of Jackson County is an organization that serves as a voice for people with disabilities.
“Over the past several years there have been incidents that have involved people with disabilities becoming lost and the results have been tragic,” said Jim Shepherd, president of The Arc of Jackson County. “People with disabilities can at times wander from caregivers, because they are interested in something and are not totally aware of their surroundings.”
Shepherd said people with disabilities also are more likely to have extreme anxiety, which results in them having panic attacks that might result in the person “fleeing” a situation.
People with disabilities and the elderly also might be susceptible to getting lost if they are battling dementia, he said.
“Project Lifesaver can assist in finding individuals who are lost much quicker than a search party could,” Shepherd said. “The speed in finding a person is crucial so that exposure to the elements is limited.”
Many of these individuals have other health issues as well, so they might need their medications or even medical treatment for a condition, said Shepherd.
Recently there was a Ewing man who suffered from an episode, where he had a seizure and ran into a cornfield at night, police said. After the seizure, he fell unconscious and a passerby found him about a mile and a half from the original search site.
“So this is a perfect example of where this program could be beneficial,” Rogers said. “When we get a call that someone is missing, we can put a special receiving antennae on top of our police cars so we are already scanning. If we take different directions and they are a mile and a half away, we’ll pick up on that. Once we pick up on the signal in that area that’s where we’ll focus our search.”
The program sounds good to the Combs family, because when they go somewhere or do anything new, they have to always hold Ali’s hand.
“We know if she hears or sees something, she’s going to try to run away from something that’s scaring her,” said Susan. “Or she might try to run to something that looks neat to her; there goes her attention and she’s gone.
Ali wears a bracelet containing her medical conditions and phone number, Susan said. Having a tracking device would be another way of keeping her safe, she added.
All Project Lifesaver clients’ names, photos, information and transmitter frequencies will be kept on file at both the Seymour Police Department and the Project Lifesaver website.
If something should happen, that information could be relayed to the nearest agency, even out of state.
“We’ve never gone on vacation with Ali because it’s too much, with new people, sights and sounds,” said Susan. “We have to take all of that into consideration with all three of her disorders; Is it suitable for her? Is she going to try to run? Are her senses overwhelmed? So we just take little family trips.”
Five Seymour officers recently received two days of instruction on the equipment and search procedures. Each will be assigned five clients.
Watson said the equipment is old technology, but effective.
“It uses radio waves, not GPS or satellite, so it’s not affected by weather or in case you have a cloudy night,” he said. “It works underwater, too. The last person our instructor found was neck deep in a lake up in Indianapolis.”
Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking 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. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes.