INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Tracking wristbands for people with cognitive disorders are going up not only in popularity but also in price, stopping several Indy families from joining the Project Lifesaver program.
Tuesday, Damar Services kicked off a $50,000 fundraiser to assist central Indiana fire departments in obtaining the bands and providing them to families at little to no cost.
The fundraising effort called “Indy Bands Together” includes a matching contribution from Damar up to $25,000. Damar representatives and area firefighters said while the primary goal is funding, they also hope to increase awareness of this technology.
“I’m excited for this program to get started because we can help so many more families out there that don’t even know that this program exists,” said Billie Auberry, a Decatur Township Fire Department firefighter.
After the recent deaths of Shalom Lawson, 8, in a Brownsburg pond and Andrew Khyang, 5, in an Indianapolis retention pond, more parents of children with autism say they’re realizing their worst nightmare could come true.
Kim Suess is an Indianapolis mom who has searched for her son with law enforcement three times. Deric Suess was found safe in each instance, but Kim said they’re all close calls.
“The third time was the longest he was out. It was on Father’s Day, and he was about 2.5 miles from our house. He had been gone for three hours, and they found him on the railroad tracks,” Suess said. “I ran to the … into the woods and to the golf course, and he wasn’t there and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is like bigger than me. I don’t even begin to know where to look.'”
Dawn Mills’ son also uses Project Lifesaver after he left his house in a car one evening.
“It’s kind of peace of mind with the bracelet knowing we can find him if something happens,” Mills said . “He decided to take off in a car, which is even scarier, in the middle of the night.”
Now many other parents are choosing to use the radio signal-enabled wristbands from Project Lifesaver.
“The client wears a transmitter, and we have a receiver and we can locate them by identification number to find them to bring them back home safely,” Auberry said.
About two dozen fire departments have the program in central Indiana, and some offer the device for free. If they don’t, Joy Lurch with Project Lifesaver for Indiana said the wristband costs about $350 and could also have a monthly service fee plus the cost of batteries and strap replacement.
Damar Services kicked off its fundraiser with a tracking and rescue demonstration with the Wayne Township and Decatur Township fire departments.
Billie Auberry’s daughter Marlena acted as the runner. She had a radio tracker attached to her ankle and was taken to an undisclosed location on the Damar campus. After a radio briefing, the firefighters got to work searching with an all-terrain vehicle, drones, by foot and, of course, with several radio receivers tuned to Marlena’s frequency in hand.
In less than 15 minutes, the team of firefighters pulled Marlena out of a wooded area behind a baseball diamond and returned her safely to the building.
That kind of success has parents like Kim Suess feeling a sense of peace.
“We still take the necessary precautions at our house as a family, but it gives me a peace of mind,” she said. “There’s always that one time that it could happen and all I have to do is call 911 and know that more than likely he’s going to be found within 15 minutes.”
The money raised by Damar will go into a general Project Lifesaver fund, then Indiana fire departments with the program can use it to help families pay for the bands.
To qualify for the Project Lifesaver program, the dependent must have a diagnosed cognitive disorder and be considered a flight risk. Officials said this includes older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as children or adults with autism, Down syndrome or a brain injury.
Donations can be made on the Damar website or by texting “Indy” to 317-444-999 with your donation amount.