Bruce Gordon

Shocked Back to Life

The train doors at Denver International Airport closed — Bruce Gordon’s palms started to sweat. He hadn’t felt well that day, but this was unusual. “This was the heart attack I was afraid of,” he said. “I knew I only had 30 minutes to get help before it was too late.” 

As Gordon pushed his way off the train, he thought, “I don’t want to use an elevator because I might die in there and no one will know.” As he stepped onto the escalator, he thought of his wife and two daughters, wanting to tell them “I love you” one last time. 

He stepped off the escalator and knew there would be a police officer who could help. He threw down his backpack and left his belongings on the floor of the terminal. Gordon told the officer, “I’m having a heart attack, and I don’t have much time left.” 

Then it all went blurry. 

Moments later, Gordon was at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) being shocked back to life. It took Bruce’s emergency care physician, Matthew Salzberg, MD, three attempts with an automated external defibrillator to restart his heart. 

Gordon can recount the final two shocks. “After I felt the second one, I told the doctor ‘I’m done — don’t do this to me anymore.’” 

Gordon spent the next 21 days in intensive care. His college roommates flew in from California to say goodbye. “I told my brother to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding,” Gordon said. “At that point, I was preparing to die.” 

Three days before his open heart surgery, his nurse, Caitlin Bruen, RN, gave him a message he needed to hear. Gordon said, “I was giving up. I thought my friends and family had seen me for the last time.” Bruen knew his fight wasn’t over. She grabbed him by the hospital gown and said, “You are not allowed to give up. You have so much to live for, and I won’t let you stop fighting.” From then on, Gordon was determined to get his life back. 

Gordon had a sucessful coronary artery bypass surgery. His cardiothoracic surgeon, Muhammad Aftab, MD, said, “The surgical success was a direct result of his healthy lifestyle, motivation and singular focus on getting better.” 

Gordon has always been active. Before his heart attack in 2017, he had logged over 1,800 miles on his road bike, and took pride in climbing Mount Rainier in Washington and swimming across Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. 

“I was so scared of having another heart attack that post-traumatic stress disorder was getting in the way of my recovery,” he said. During his treatment, Gordon’s entire medical team collectively monitored his progress. Dr. Salzberg visited him in the ICU and, following surgery, Dr. Aftab checked in and just held his hand. Gordon said, “It was a simple gesture, but exactly what I needed — someone to hold my hand.” 

It took over 12 months for Gordon to recover both physically and mentally. His heart function has normalized after surgery despite having a major heart attack. After he was discharged and recovering at home, he asked to see his former ICU room. “I needed to go back to confront the emotions and PTSD I was having,” said Gordon. 

Now, Gordon is rebuilding a barn in Elizabeth, Colorado, and preparing for the next chapter of his life with his wife and family. “UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is a transformational place,” he said. “They saved my life, and I am determined to not squander this opportunity.”