YARMOUTH — Dick Leavitt was playing tennis with friends last month when he suddenly collapsed and gashed his head on the court. The 83-year-old Pownal resident was having a minor heart attack.
When first responders arrived on the scene, Leavitt’s friends directed them to his automobile, which has a round, yellow sticker on the rear windshield.
The responders knew what to do: They looked in the glove box and found information about Leavitt’s heart arrhythmia, clotting condition and blood thinner medication – information that helped guide treatment during the all-important “golden hour” of his medical emergency.
“This program saved my life,” Leavitt said of the Yellow Dot Program, which launched a year ago in Cumberland County.
Leavitt was back on the tennis courts two weeks later. His is one of several success stories the Yellow Dot Program has had in its first year. But some of the program’s proponents are disappointed it hasn’t been more widely adopted.
The program is basically a pamphlet and a sticker. People with medical conditions fill out the pamphlet with their personal information, medications they take, physicians, emergency contacts and a photo, and place it in their glove compartment. Then they put a sticker on their car that alerts police and other responders, typically in the case of an automobile accident, to look in the glove box for that information.
Inspired by a similar program in Alabama, Officer Ted Hatch of the Gorham Police Department started the program in Cumberland County with an $18,000 contribution from the town of Gorham and donations from several businesses. Since then, he has taken his message on the road, helping expand the program to parts of Knox and York counties. He also created a yellow sticker for motorcycle license plates.
“When I started this, I said if I can make a difference in one person’s life, I’ll be very happy,” Hatch said. “It sounds cornbally, but it makes this job worthwhile.”
Since his accident, Leavitt has become one of the program’s biggest cheerleaders. He has scheduled meetings with several churches in the greater Portland area about distributing the program packets, which are free, to congregants.
“I tell the ministers, if it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today,” Leavitt said.
Last week, Leavitt visited the Yarmouth Fire Department, one of more than a dozen distribution centers in the area, to make sure they were stocked.
“Having that information, when it’s correct and updated, you can’t imagine how beneficial it is,” Yarmouth Fire Chief Michael Robitaille said. “We go from having a John Doe to a real person. It helps us out tremendously.”
The program isn’t just for the elderly, Robitaille said. He noted, for example, that a young person may have a heart condition, but if responders find the person passed out in a car – without the benefit of a yellow dot – their assumption may be that the individual is suffering from diabetes complications or an overdose.
Hatch estimated there are more than 7,000 people currently using the program, but because there is no enrollment process, there’s also no data. One way it could be logged, Hatch said, would be if there were a specific place to record it in police crash log systems, but right now that seems unlikely. Without hard data, there’s not much but anecdotes like Leavitt’s to gauge the program’s success.
“It’s old fashioned,” Hatch said. “But it’s effective.”
The program has had push-back from some police departments, concerned that a yellow sticker could make someone a target for identity theft, Hatch said. Mainly, though, the program’s expansion has been hampered by funding and visibility.
“Word is not getting out,” Leavitt said. “I spoke to a state trooper who hadn’t heard of it.”
Hatch said he’d love to see Gov. Paul LePage and the state provide funding. “I want to spread it further,” he said.