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Alzheimer's Association, New York City Chapter

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Lost in JFK

After several weeks of rest and relaxation with family and friends on the island of Haiti, Mr. and Mrs. Edouard Certil were returning home to New Jersey flying into JFK International Airport in Queens. Mr. Certil is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was a cold Thursday February evening when they landed in New York City. Edouard, an American citizen, stood on the United States passport line at JFK. His wife, a Haitian citizen, had to wait on the foreign national’s line. The separation between Mr. & Mrs. Certil apparently made Edouard confused and disoriented in this bewildering and unfamiliar environment. Edouard managed to get through customs first, and walked out of the waiting area and disappeared. For those who are cognitively intact, getting through customs can be challenging; for those with cognitive impairment, it can be unsafe, unless accompanied by a responsible party.

Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® received a call from Detective Osada of the Linden, New Jersey Police Department, asking if we were able to assist in the recovery of Mr. Certil even though he was not registered with Safe Return. We informed the detective that Safe Return provides assistance to all individuals with dementia, even if they are not registered. Enrollment in Safe Return is then strongly encouraged once the individual is recovered. The Greater New Jersey Chapter asked if we could lend a hand by faxing a missing person report to several regions in New Jersey, as well as local hospitals and emergency responders within the five boroughs. We were glad to help.

Working cooperatively with the Greater New Jersey Chapter, New York and New Jersey Police Departments, Safe Return began to provide support for the Certil family during this frightening ordeal. Hoping to locate him quickly, the Certil family began to post flyers and search locally. Unfortunately there were no leads. Because wandering behavior can be dangerous, if not found within 24 hours, half of those who wander risk serious injury or death. We asked the family if they were interested in getting the story in the press. Brendan Keefe, a reporter from WCBS-TV, interviewed the concerned family and covered the story. By this time, Edouard had been missing for several days and his 75th birthday was approaching.

Due to our fax broadcasting and media exposure a “Good Samaritan” recognized his picture on television. When she returned to her job at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens she related the information to a social worker. The description on the fax report matched that of Mr. Certil. He was found cold, shivering, confused and disoriented in a building in Brooklyn and was taken to the hospital by EMS. Unable to respond to any questions and not having any identification made it impossible to identify him.

Mr. Certil was returned home after several days in the hospital, where he was treated for exposure. He has been seen by his doctor in New Jersey, and is doing well. You can be sure that Mr. Certil will be registered in the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program. The New Jersey Chapter is following up with the family, providing needed support and information.

Traveling with a person with AD and other dementias requires special considerations. If you are considering traveling abroad or locally and have not enrolled the person you are caring for now is the time. Keep in mind when someone with Alzheimer’s disease wanders a rapid response increases the chances that the person will be found quickly. For more tips on traveling with your relative with AD, please click here. For information about Safe Return or to enroll, please call 646.744.2918, or click here.


— Elizabeth Santiago,
Manager, Safe Return


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