John Kaufman had just dropped off a gym bag for his wife, who was at work at the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District. He turned around and collapsed to the ground.

Someone dialed 911, paramedics began CPR and an ambulance team continued to work on him on the way to the hospital, where emergency room staff took over.

And more than eight months later Kaufman is relishing life, having survived a sudden cardiac arrest.

"First responders, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have a life, my wife wouldn't have a husband and my children wouldn't have a father," Kaufman, a Santa Rosa equine veterinarian, said Thursday.

Kaufman and five other people who survived catastrophic emergencies told their stories at the 19th annual Survivors' Reunion hosted by the Sonoma County Paramedic Association at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen.

Survivors, standing alongside the emergency personnel who helped them, told of their gratitude to a crowd of about 250 emergency personnel and their families at the event, held each year during Emergency Medical Services Week.

"I am lucky to be here in front of all the people who did their job and did it really well," said Richard Sherwin, 78, of Cloverdale.

Sherwin was standing behind an 18-wheeler Sept. 21, 2011, when the truck inexplicably began moving in reverse. The semi ran him over and he was caught up in the wheel well before the truck stopped after about 20 feet.

When the 911 call came in, Cloverdale Fire Battalion Chief Rick Blackmon made a split-second decision to call for a medical helicopter.

"That call probably saved a man's life," said Brent Farris, KZST radio host and event emcee.

Santa Rosa contractor Bruce Lamar collapsed from cardiac arrest at the Montecito Heights Health Club. Behind him on a stationary bicycle was Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital physician Dr. Tucker Bierbaum, who came to Lamar's aid.

"You realize it takes an entire team who are ready to go," said Lamar, 57.

And Marcelo Aguero, 40, of Windsor collapsed while in a tennis match with a person he'd never met before, veteran Marin County firefighter Tony Giacomini.

Giacomini performed CPR and defibrillation, critical to restarting Aguero's heart in those first moments.

After his recovery, Aguero became CPR certified and has convinced 75 people in his life to do the same.

"For me, this is a celebration of life," Aguero said. "For them," he said, referring to the emergency workers, "it's just what they do."

Other survivors include Don Peters, who was helping staff at a Healdsburg church with an accounting system when he collapsed.

Janice Reese accidentally hit the brakes on her bicycle when she looked behind her when charging up Graton Road. The impact caused compression fractures to her spine, she lost some teeth and she broke her nose, among other serious injuries.

She now stands two inches shorter than before the accident. But she's alive.

"We have no idea they're working every day so they can come to the rescue, but then there they are," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or