06/22/09 — New bracelets help families monitor children and elderly

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New bracelets help families monitor children and elderly

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 22, 2009 1:46 PM

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Ten-year-old Yamar Wooten, who wears a Project Lifesaver bracelet on his ankle, plays on a swing in his back yard with his mom, Julia.

As a mother of four, Julia Wooten knows what it takes to keep up with children.

But considering that three of hers are autistic, the situation has its own set of challenges.

It's her third child, 10-year-old Yamar, who really keeps her on her toes.

"He's a runner," she says of the son also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. On average, he might make his getaway two or three times a month, his mother said.

"I nailed down all my windows except for the living room window, a couple of bedroom windows -- not all, because that would be a fire hazard -- and even then, he'd still find ways to get out," Ms. Wooten said.

He would run a "good ways," she added, once found nearly a mile away. Having neighbors aware of the situation helped.

Still, there have been many sleepless nights. Until she learned of a possible tracking device that might offer a solution.

At Edgewood Community Developmental School, where Yamar is a student, a teacher told Ms. Wooten about two options to pursue -- A Small Miracle of Goldsboro, which provides in-home services for people with developmental disabilities, and the N.C. Project Lifesaver bracelet, a tracking device ideal for people who wander from home, cannot communicate or find their way back without help.

Ms. Wooten contacted Ann Newsome, vice president of program operations at A Small Miracle.

"More than a year ago, I heard about Project Lifesaver," Ms. Newsome said. "It's good not only for children with autism, but adults, anyone who may have a tendency to wander."

Initially, there was no one locally trained in its use and the insurance cost for Ms. Wooten was prohibitive.

"If it's meant for me to have one, I will have one," she said she thought at the time.

Little did she know that she would be the catalyst for bringing training, and a bracelet for her son, to Wayne County. It all came together -- Arr-Mac Water Response Team Search and Rescue Division took the necessary training to be affiliated with Project Lifesaver, and the Wayne County Chapter of Autism learned of Ms. Wooten's plight, donating a bracelet and a year's supply of batteries to her family.

"The N.C. Project Lifesaver services are now available in Wayne County with Mar Mac and Arrington fire department volunteers trained to locate a missing person wearing one of the bracelets," Ms. Newsome explained. "I'm absolutely thrilled that this service is provided in Wayne County ... to be able to go out and find them quicker, I just can't even explain the joy that it brings or comfort that it brings to a family."

Chief Bill Harrell of Mar Mac Fire Department said he wishes that a lot more families would take advantage of the tracking bracelet. He said he and Randy Rogers, Arrington FD chief, typically have the Arr-Mac team called upon for water rescues but of late have expanded to a ground search team. Nearly two dozen team members signed up for the Project Lifesaver training, he said.

It works on a very simple principle, he said.

"They'll call and let us know if a child or older person has the device on -- it's like a watch and has a number assigned to it. We can set up the equipment and once we get there, talk to the lead investigator," he said. "We can go right to work running grids and running areas and locators. With the equipment we can pick up about a mile and a half or two."

It's a worthwhile project, Harrell said.

"I wish a lot more folks could have one," he said. "It may have started with autism, but we're seeing the need for Alzheimer's and dementia patients, people in nursing homes. I wish, and a lot of our team wishes, a lot more would have those bracelets."

While it may have been unexpected, Ms. Wooten says she is certainly appreciative to have been a recipient.

"It has made a lot of difference because (Yamar) does think twice about running now," she said.

Now, knowing the ankle bracelet is in place is a "great relief," she said.

"When he runs, I get in a panic. I don't know where he's run, how far," she said. "If you call 911 within a little time, they can find (him) within one mile on the ground and 10 miles in the air. So it gives me a lot of peace."