Family, Faith, and a New Kidney Give Blind Musician a Second Act

The darkest moment for Larry Banks was not when he lost his eyesight; it was several years later on the day the music stopped.

Ask Larry about music and the troubadour waxes poetic. “I’m eclectic in my tastes,” he says, listing Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, the Beatles, and Earth, Wind & Fire among his favorites. He has a recording studio in his home; he’s put out an album, and he writes, plays, and sings original compositions for his church. In addition to being an avid musician, he’s also an author – the first book in a trilogy he’s writing is already in Barnes & Noble and he is working on a book of poems. He also used to teach acting to at-risk kids, and before losing his eyesight, was a dedicated painter as well.

But in December 2011 all that creative energy came to a halt. After years of “gluttonous” habits (as Larry puts it), in spite of his end stage renal disease and need for dialysis, one day he collapsed on the floor of his apartment. Siblings found him hours later and rushed him to the hospital.

He would spend the next four weeks unconscious in a hospital bed.

“From December 15 to January 15 my mind is blank. I was knocked out, hospitalized – they thought I was going to pass away,” Larry says. Doctors warned family members that his condition was grave. But eventually they were able to bring him back. When Larry finally awoke a month later in Kings Brook nursing home, where he was sent for long-term care, he found himself in despair. He had lost his remaining eyesight and was in terrible shape physically. Normally jovial and good-natured, he was angry and depressed. As he puts it, “I wasn’t myself.” Proving the point: Larry had lost all drive to make music.

But if Larry had given up, his brother and doctor didn’t. Over the following six months, both coaxed him to get better. His brother, Stanley, started taking him on trips back to his apartment. After months away, his first homecoming was bittersweet. “When I first came to my apartment, it was very foreign for me,” Larry says. “I had been gone for six or seven months, so I was lost.” Against the advice of others – but believing in his brother – that first visit, Stanley let Larry go into the house for half an hour alone. It was a galvanizing moment. Says Larry: “All I did was sit on the steps and cry.” Over the following weeks, Stanley let his brother stay longer with each visit, before returning him to Kings Brook each night. The visits helped focus Larry’s mind and rebuild his resolve. After years of neglecting his health, and particularly his kidney disease, Larry became determined to turn the page. He would get a kidney transplant.

The Musician’s Second Act

Getting a new organ is not as simple as taking the old one out and putting the donated one in. For starters, in the case of kidney transplants, the old kidneys are kept in place. But more relevantly for Larry, new organs require lifelong care. Patients must be incredibly diligent about the anti-rejection medication regimens, checking in with doctors, and staying healthy overall. Qualifying for a transplant therefore requires more than tests of physical wellbeing; doctors must be convinced of a patient’s willingness and ability to take care of the organ over time.

For Larry, who wound up in a hospital and nursing home in part by not managing his kidney disease properly, the first hurdle to a new kidney was convincing doctors he would take the transplant seriously. Fortunately for Larry, in addition to new resolve, he also had the support of his brother, brother’s girlfriend, and other siblings to help reassure the medical team. And after meeting with Susan M. Lerner, MD, MD, a renal surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center, he found an advocate in her as well.

In November 2012, almost a year after collapsing in his home, Larry underwent surgery for a new kidney. He came through with flying colors. Though he found aspects of the initial recovery at times painful, he appreciated the attention he received from hospital staff. “I know I’m difficult; I know that for a fact,” says Larry with a laugh. “The one thing about the nurses at Mount Sinai – they must take a courtesy course – they are so nice and cheerful.”

Several months after surgery, Larry has recovered and reports doing well. Most indicative of a successful recovery: his passion for making music has returned. In late March, he performed at his first major gig in over a year, a women’s benefit concert at the King Cultural Arts Center.

A spiritual man, Larry says his favorite passage of scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6, which counsels putting faith in God, even when things seem grim. In addition to the family members, doctors, and nurses who saw him through, Larry credits that faith with helping him persevere. In addition, he’s particularly appreciative of his surgeon, Dr. Lerner: “She was a life changer,” says Larry.

In his second act, Larry looks forward to making a difference for others through his music. “There is so much chaos, so much confusion in the world … there is a little room and a little space for someone to bring some comfort, some compassion,” Larry says. “I want to do it through music. I want people to have their lives changed through music. And not through Larry Banks; but through the music that God has gifted me to share with the human race.”