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Indy doctor back from condo collapse in Florida talks about her experience

Posted at 2:44 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 19:02:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A doctor from Indianapolis was among the dozens who helped with recovery efforts at the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida that killed at least 97 people. She is now sharing her story and some of what she saw with WRTV.

"It was physically hard, it was emotionally hard," Dr. Stephanie Gardner, the medical team manager with Task Force I, said. "I think it was very valuable work, and I think we could feel and see the appreciation of the community there and the families."

Dr. Gardner has been on the team for 10 years. The deployment to Surfside was her fourth. The other three were related to hurricanes, and the doctor says this assignment was very different.

Here's what she told WRTV (you can also hear her in the video above):

"Being out on the pile, on the rubble, it was very somber. It wasn't just that we were looking for people, for victims. We also found their photos, their photo albums, their passports. I mean, just every part of their little life, where we could start to put together - we were in the master bedroom, we were in the living room, we could see what was a desk, you could start to picture their life and what they were and exactly the position they were in when this happened. And then with that and combined with going over to the memorial wall and seeing their pictures … um, sorry. You could really just, you could really feel this was a person, it didn't feel like the recovery of a body, it felt like finding a person and giving them back to their family."

Dr. Gardner is an emergency medicine physician at Ascension St. Vincent.

Her first year of residency she witnessed the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair 10 years ago. She says that was her first experience with disaster medicine.