Andy Viera was driving home to St. Helena after coaching basketball at Justin-Siena a few days before Thanksgiving last fall when a car driven by an allegedly impaired driver rammed head-on into his Honda CRV on Highway 29 near Oak Knoll Avenue.
A bystander, Patrick McCreary, stopped and called 911 and then called Viera’s wife. Napa City and Napa County firefighters extricated Viera from the mangled car before he was transported to Queen of the Valley Medical Center with broken bones, a ruptured spleen and other injuries. A few days later, Viera, a father of two, was transferred to Kaiser Permanente’s Vacaville Medical Center.
Six months later, Viera was on hand to thank the first responders, the bystander and the hospital staff at Wednesday’s Survivors Reunion at Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford. The event, which is in its second year, celebrated the responders, Viera and four other health-scare survivors. It was organized in conjunction with National EMS Week.
“It’s just a great opportunity to be able to thank the people that helped you. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to do that,” said Viera, 36, after he and his family stood for pictures with McCreary and the emergency personnel who responded to the crash that night.
As late afternoon winds blew Wednesday at the outdoor dinner event, master of ceremonies Ted Williams recounted the stories of the five survivors, introducing them to the audience along with the bystanders, the dispatchers, the firefighters and paramedics and others who saved their lives. The survivors, wearing leis, received a plaque and a bouquet of flowers.
Besides Viera, the other survivors included William Throne, a retired plumber from Stockton, who collapsed from heart failure after a benefit bicycle ride in April 2012 while visiting relatives in Napa. His brother-in-law, Lee Shaw, chaplain for police and fire agencies in Napa County, performed CPR as paramedics were dispatched to the house.
“He was dead. There was no pulse, nothing. He was gone,” Shaw said during the dinner. American Medical Response and Napa City Fire from Station 3 responded. “We thought we lost him, really,” Shaw recalled.
But Throne, 65, pulled through and on Wednesday, he was able to thank everyone who saved his life.
John Steen, a 52-year-old teacher at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, was another survivor honored at Wednesday’s event. On Dec. 27, he and his 19-year-old daughter, Rebecca Steen, were home watching “True Life,” a reality show on television when he turned blue and started choking. On Wednesday, Williams introduced a 3-minute recording of a 911 call during which dispatcher Teresa Ochoa guided a crying Rebecca Steen on how to perform CPR on her dad.
Other survivors included Al Steenvoorde, 67, a baseball coach from San Bruno, who went into cardiac arrest during a Joe DiMaggio baseball tourney opener last June; and Justin Claussen, 24, of Concord, whose heart stopped beating while he was wakeboarding at Lake Berryessa.
Claussen was pulled out of the water by his father and three others, including a San Francisco police officer. Claussen was airlifted by Calstar to Queen of the Valley Medical Center after two registered nurses performed CPR on him on the boat ramp at Pleasure Cove. On Wednesday, Claussen and his dad, Larry, thanked the rescuers for saving his life.
Dan Brooks, a Calstar pilot said the Claussens had also visited the base after the incident to thank the staff. “It’s good to see him again here,” Brooks said Wednesday. “We probably never get the opportunity to meet folks after the fact.
“It’s very cool.”
Speakers at the event included Eric Hoffman, chief of CalFire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit and Ken Bradford, field supervisor for AMR and chairman of the Napa County Survivors’ Reunion Committee, which includes hospital and first responder representatives.