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Living with a family member at-risk due to Alzheimer's, autism, or other related conditions or disorders can be a very stressful, scary thing. In an effort to make these individuals (who are prone to wandering off or getting lost easily) safer and give their caregivers some piece of mind, longtime Guilford resident and mother of an autistic child Linda Toscano wanted to help do something.
After extensive research and several purchases of safety equipment to keep track of for her own nine year-old son, Gavin, Toscano found nothing worked.
"I was changing my newborn one afternoon. Gavin had just learned to walk," Toscano recalled of one typical moment. "[Gavin] was just about three years old and he opened the door and wandered out. I found him running down the street, because he wanted to see a fire hydrant. I realized at that moment I was going to have to put alarms on all the windows and doors.
"I immediately put a fence up. I bought a GPS pocket tracking device, but the batteries kept draining, because the school had a metal roof and it wasn't always in range. I also tried LoJack. Nothing was reliable!" she said.
Frustrated, Toscana kept searching. Her passion to find something that worked intensified after Tristan Defaranos-Peterson, a special needs four year-old in town with Dravet syndrome, wandered from his home and made his way to a neighbor's pool, in which he drowned.
"This was such a heartbreaking incident and I just wanted to find a way to keep our special needs kids and adults safer, so I kept investigating and finally found Project Lifesaver International," explained Toscano.
Project Lifesaver is a small personal transmitter worn around the ankle or wrist that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an individual goes missing, his or her caregiver notifies the local Lifesaver agency (in this case, the Guilford Police Department) and a trained emergency team responds immediately to the missing person's area.
According to Project Lifesaver's website, www.projectlifesaver.org, the device reduces search times from days and hours to minutes. In these cases, time is of the essence and every minute lost increases the risk of a tragic outcome.
With an appropriate solution at hand, Toscano contacted the Guilford Police Department to aid with her mission. Deputy Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson applied for a grant from the National Institute of Justice for the equipment for the program. The grant was recently secured.
"I think this program is great. Any tools that we can use to help us better serve our at-risk citizens and help keep them safe and protected is wonderful," explained Hutchinson. "I appreciate all that Linda has done to push this along and her efforts getting us here, pointing us in the right direction to secure this valuable equipment for Guilford."
"We have a number of special needs children and adults in Guilford and I think this equipment can be a lifesaver," said New Haven Police Captain Joann Peterson, Tristan's mother. "Maybe if it was in place, it could have quite possibly changed the outcome of my son's tragedy."
She added, "I think Project Lifesaver is a tremendous asset to the town and I am excited that the Guilford Police Department and the town are on board with this. In addition, I applaud Linda for getting this done. If it saves one life it is worth it. My son's tragedy tells us that something like this is needed in every town."
According to Hutchinson, once the equipment is up and running and his officers are trained in the program in a couple of weeks, they hope to team up with Madison to share equipment.
"I am so excited that this is all coming together," explained Toscano. "Deputy Chief Hutchinson really took this and ran with it. He stayed on top of this until we got the grant and I am so grateful. My goal now is to expand this into Madison and then throughout Connecticut. I think every town should have this safety equipment in place."
Toscano explained that fundraising will be ongoing to help aid families who may be unable to purchase the needed bracelets (which cost about $300) and batteries (which can run $30 a month). To donate, make checks payable to "Project Lifesaver International" with "Guilford CT fund" in the memo and send to Linda Toscano: 58 Driftwood Ln., Guilford, CT 06437.