It’s been just under a year since we profiled Rasheed Akbar, a New Orleans street musician whose life was turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina, in a story called The Chairman of River Street.
Akbar, 57, had been a fixture on Decatur Street in NOLA for more than 20 years, and was bringing in a few dollars a day by playing his soprano saxophone for tourists and passers–by here in Savannah.
He’d recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, brought on by Chronic Hepatitis C (Akbar doesn’t drink), and his doctors told him he was sure to die without a transplant.
Then they discovered he had liver cancer, too.
In January, he received a new liver at the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston.
In April, he was informed that his body had rejected the organ. It was, they said, too small. He went back on the waiting list.
Akbar and his wife Patricia are living without health insurance, and the bills are piling up.
Saturday evening, many of Akbar’s fellow musicians from the jazz community will play a benefit at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront. The Coastal Jazz All Stars, Ben Tucker and Friends, Huxsie Scott, Gina Rene and Randy Reese are scheduled to perform, along with the One Sound Jazz Band, which until recently featured Akbar himself – a trained musician who can coax unbelieveable sounds out of his sax.
He’s too weak to play, he says, although he promises to be there.
Akbar – born Carlton Floyd here in Savannah – says he’s keeping his sprits up, that he believes the second time will be the charm, transplant–wise.
“That’s my mindset, you know. They have a lot of information that they didn’t have before, about my body. I’m hoping that all that is a plus in their favor when they get the next liver – making sure the size is right, and that everything is set.
“That may be the only reason they haven’t called me. My blood type is one of the rare ones, and right now I’m fourth on the list.”
What he’s not looking forward to is the slow, difficult recovery. He’s already gone through it once, and didn’t see and feel the changes he was expecting.
“The first thing you look to see in the mirror: Are your eyes bright?” he says. “My eyes wasn’t bright the first time. I just pray that pops up right off the bat: If I see bright eyes, I’ll be bright–eyed, pardon the pun.”
When the call comes, he’ll have about 12 hours to get to the hospital in Charleston before the donor organ becomes unusable.
“I’m optimistic,” Akbar says, “because there’s no more ways for me to get any more transplants after this. It’ll be basically over. But I’m going to keep my head up, man, and know that God is in charge.”
‘Music is Healing’ Benefit, Silent Auction
Where: Savannah Marriott Riverfront, 100 General McIntosh Blvd.
When: At 6 p.m. Saturday, June 12
Tickets: $50 per person, includes dinner and cash bar
Reservations and information: (912) 398–0678
"The Chairman of River Street" (original story):