Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, is recovering at home following surgery Jan. 9 to ease some of the pain she has suffered since a 2015 shooting at Bridgewater Plaza.
The surgery fused several vertebrae in Gardner’s lower back that were damaged in the shooting. Gardner’s husband, Tim Gardner, said the vertebrae were fused using a portion of bone from her hip.
Gardner was the lone survivor in a Aug. 26, 2015 shooting that killed WDBJ-TV journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward. They were shot by former coworker Vester Lee Flanagan II during a live television interview at Bridgewater Plaza.
While Gardner survived the shooting, she suffered serious injuries. In addition to injuring her spine, doctors removed a kidney and parts of her intestines and colon.
Tim Gardner said some of the damage to his wife’s spine originally may have gone unnoticed by doctors who worked to keep her alive. He said several of the muscles connected to her spine were cut in the shooting, which led to her pain.
Since then, Gardner’s back pain intensified, Tim Gardner said, becoming a struggle for her to get out of bed most mornings. “She had massive back pain,” he said. “She just never let anyone know.”
At first, Gardner tried physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around her spine. When that didn’t help, she agreed to the surgery. “We finally decided this was the best course of action,” Tim Gardner said.
For the next two weeks, Gardner will recover at home. She is expected to return to the chamber next month on a limited basis. Gardner said it could be at least six months before she fully recovers.