- Associated Press - Sunday, March 4, 2018

LEWISBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Lewisburg insurance agent Sandy Epling knows the torment of searching in vain for a loved one who has a cognitive disorder and has wandered away.

Her husband, Raymond Eugene Epling, disappeared while the couple was vacationing in Canaan Valley last spring. Despite a massive search effort that involved hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officers, the 76-year-old man was not found until four days later, dead of exposure in a wooded area only about 1.5 miles from the house where he and his wife had been staying.

“He just stepped outside and didn’t recognize the place,” Sandy said of her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease. “I can only imagine how frightening it was for him to be lost.”

Prompted by her personal tragedy, Sandy last week donated funding to purchase three transponder units for the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Office’s Project Lifesaver program.

A search and rescue system that uses radio transmitters and electronic tracking equipment to help locate lost persons who have cognitive disabilities, Project Lifesaver has led to more than 3,300 rescues nationwide, according to Sheriff Bruce Sloan.

Under this program, a legally responsible party can request that a radio transmitter be placed on the wrist or ankle of a person whose cognitive disorder puts him/her at risk of wandering off and becoming lost. Qualifying disorders include autism, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Greenbrier County has only been in the program for a few months, and Sloan said he is still trying to raise local awareness about Project Lifesaver and to encourage people to sign up before another person goes missing.

“Some people think that’s never going to happen to them,” the sheriff said.

Sandy agreed, saying her late husband’s “daily helper” - or caregiver - didn’t believe it could happen either.

Because Raymond wandered off while on vacation, Sandy specified that one of the Project Lifesaver transponders she donated through the State Farm Insurance agency that bears her name would be designated as a “loaner” for the use of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). That unit will be available for temporary use by qualifying visitors to the area, to ensure that no one else has to cope with the kind of loss she has suffered, Sandy said.

“It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you deal with what happens to you,” Sandy said of her decision to make this donation.

“We were on vacation when my husband became lost, and had this program been in place then, we could have registered him, and probably we could have found him before it was too late,” she said. “This is really a great outreach. We want people to know this program is available.”

CVB executive director Kara Dense said the loaner transponder will be maintained at the Visitors Center in Lewisburg, and the process whereby it will be loaned out will be coordinated with the Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve all learned from Sandy’s experience,” Dense said. “We’re thankful for her donation, which allows us to be able to do this. We’re very proud to be able to participate in Project Lifesaver.”


Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

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