“I’m not sure if it’s strange or weird, or maybe just disappointing.”
Im Lynde has a story that may remind you of an episode of Black Mirror.
In July of 2018, Im was heading home after a long day at work.
He’s tired, so he doesn’t stop anywhere on the way home but instead heads straight to the train platform: the 1, 28th Street stop, in Chelsea, southbound.
A man—whom Im presumed to be homeless—was sitting on the very edge of the platform with his legs swung over the side. A train was coming; they could hear it rumbling along in the tunnels, and there were a few dozen other people on the platform when Im arrived.
No one seemed to know what to do. The man kept asking for $20, and understandably no one wanted to give him money. Some people were talking to him and trying to get him to stand up, but a lot of people had their phones out and were recording.
The train was barrelling down into the station.
“Holy shit,” Im said, to no one.
He pushed the other samaritans out of the way and hauled the man to his feet, away from the platform edge.
“What do you need, man?” he asked.
The man replied: “I need twenty dollars.”
“Fine, dude,” Im said. “I have twenty dollars for you. But I have to give it to you outside of the station, if you’ll follow me.”
The train was by then about 20 feet away, and thankfully, the man didn’t hesitate and got up as the train rolled into the station.
Im leads the man to the emergency gate and he send the man through it ahead of himself, then opened his wallet and handed him whatever money he had in there and pulled the door closed quickly behind himself so that the man wouldn’t be able to follow back through.
“I was so pissed, and so disappointed on behalf of new Yorkers. He could’ve been killed.”
He said the strangest thing was the dullness of everyone watching from behind their phones, not having the instinct to react quickly.
“It’s that creepy feeling like we’re living behind our screens and nothing is really real?”
“Yes!” he says. “Exactly. When I’m out in public, I’m not on my phone. Everyone is so distracted. Whatever it is, it can wait.”
Im had a heart attack several weeks before our call. I hadn’t known about it. He had kept it all very quiet. I also would never have thought he’d be at risk: he’s very healthy, does yoga, a non-smoker. He also had no family history of heart disease.
I met Im as part of my work with our AIDS-fighting non-profit, Supersnack, a little over a decade ago. At the time, he was working for Aids Walk New York / Gay Men’s Health Crisis, then moved to Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington D.C., and bounced between New York and California for about a decade, always working in development for non-profits, often in the health sector. He’s worked to find cures for HIV/AIDS, lupus, pulmonary hypertension, has done advocacy for LGBT elders, and LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers. He’s now the Chief Development Officer at URI, which provides emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence and homeless families.
He is a wholly generous soul, and someone who’s devoted his entire life to working for the greater good.
It would not be over-the-top to phrase it this way: Im is a real-life hero. His entire life to date has been spent in the service of others. He also would laugh off the hero characterization, and probably offer to pour me a stiffer drink.
That, of course, makes it all the more true.
Im’s heart attack had come on gradually; he’d had signs for five weeks, but of course, not knowing what a heart attack was supposed to feel like, and not thinking himself at risk, he did his best to ignore the pain and carry on with his work.
He describes it as a sudden pressure in the middle of his chest (“I dismissed it because it wasn’t over to the left side,” he says) that would last 10–15 seconds and then go away.
It was more uncomfortable and annoying than painful, but it came on him with exacting regularity, every 30 minutes. The sensation routinely woke him up.
At 12:10 a.m., on Friday, October 25th, the pressure returned. But this time, it was a more concentrated spot, it felt like an elephant on his chest, and it lasted ten minutes.
He knew then that something was very wrong. He ran into the living room, where his husband Peter, who’s a pilot, was still up, watching television.
“I still didn’t know it was a heart attack. I thought a heart attack was supposed to be clenching my chest, winded, arm pain, falling off my feet. None of that happened. I just said to Peter, ‘We need to go.’”
When they got to the ER, the nurses said it was lucky they’d come in when they did.
“I never felt like my life was in danger,” Im says, “even though it could’ve been bad. I was still being a bossy type-A, asking questions and telling people what was happening.”
The EKG came back and the medical folks said it was probably a heart attack, and admitted him to the ICU. When the cardiologist arrived, they learned that the front artery of Im’s heart was 99.9% blocked.
“So that was what caused the pressure,” Im says.
An angioplasty was performed. Im chose anesthesia so he could stay awake and watch the surgery on a giant tv screen.
He was discharged from the ICU on a Saturday, about 36 hours after he’d arrived, and the bill was $80,000.
“Let me know what I owe,” he jokes. “Hopefully not more than my $100 copay.”
(He has health insurance, thankfully.)
And Im—hero, remember?—was back at his desk on the Monday following.
The doctors, and Im’s friends, were all baffled why this happened to him: he’s young, doesn’t smoke, eats healthy food. But the doctors did say they’re seeing more young people come in with ailments that generally affect people who are older.
A possible cause, of course, is stress.
“I’m sure stress had a huge role in triggering it,” Im says. “I’ve been understaffed and been under a lot of pressure to raise money.”
He wisely said he would take it easy on going back to work, but he also was back on the Monday.
“Even after all that, I was like, ‘Okay…that was a heart attack?’”
He said it was pretty severe and unexpected, but the cardiologist told him it affects everyone differently. Some have more pain, some people exhibit the typical television version of the symptoms, and some, of course, don’t survive it.
The organization Im works for, URI, is a big one: $76-million big, serving 5,000 clients per year.
“You know,” he says, “dealing with the issue of domestic violence and homeless families is very stressful, they’re not fun issues.”
And although Im says this is an issue that most people say they care about in the abstract, unless it’s personal—unless a donor knows someone who’s been through it—“it’s hard to get a dollar out of people.”
Im also says domestic violence has been on the rise in the LGBT community, but isn’t talked about. “If you’re gay, you’re not supposed to be abusive or violent with your spouse. That shit in LGBT relationships happens more frequently than we think.”
Im says that he thinks he’ll be ready to move on from fundraising in a few years. He’s been doing it for 18 years, for so many different causes and activations, helping hundreds of thousands of people along the way with a variety of programs and services, but all this responsibility does come at a cost: “It’s just a different level of stress,” he says, “that can cause a heart attack.”
“My outlook on life since that happened,” Im says, “is like, ‘What do you need to get done?’ People talk about getting hit by a bus tomorrow, but many of them don’t think about their body turning on them.”
Im and Peter want to have kids, and have also thought about buying property or starting a business overseas.
“We feel like we’re on a race against time,” he says. “I just turned 42, so it really is time to make sure that you’re living every day, and happy every day. Because the next heart attack could come tomorrow. And whatever you need to do, go do it.”
Im Lynde is a development officer for Urban Resource Institute. He lives in Jersey City with his husband, Peter. He is a really good time at parties.