Music star Al B. Sure turns a fight for his life into a battle for medical equity

Al B. Sure attends the National Urban League Conference Legacy Leadership Luncheon & Awards on July 28, 2023, in Houston. (Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for National Urban League/TNS)

After collapsing in a Houston studio during a recording session last year, R&B star Al B. Sure wound up in a coma that lasted longer than some of his concert tours.

For nearly three months, the hitmaker behind such classics as“Nite and Day” and‘Off on Your Own” was flat on his back, hooked up to a ventilator preparing for what could have been his swan song.


“They were going to send me to hospice,” Sure told me the other day. “ It was a fatal situation. There was no way out of it.”

After a battery of tests, doctors determined that Sure needed a new liver. The transplant saved his life.

But he’s not out of the woods yet. In addition to the 20 pills he swallows every day, Sure, born Albert Brown III, has to take constant blood tests to make sure his body isn’t rejecting the new organ.

These crucial tests are the heart of Sure’s fight for life, and he isn’t just fighting for his own.

Earlier this year, a private contractor was allowed to cut Medicare coverage for the life-saving blood test that is able to detect an organ rejection up to months in advance

It’s the latest in a long line of health care inequities for Blacks and people of color, and Sure, with help from the Rev. Al Sharpton, is determined to do something about it.

Last week, Sure and Sharpton announced a new “ Health Equity in Transplantation Coalition” to oppose the Medicare cutbacks, and urge Congress to enact legislation to reverse the restrictions.

“Black, Hispanic, Latino and underserved communities were given a lifeline with these non-invasive tests,” Sharpton said. “That was taken away in March 2023, when a private company decided Medicare would no longer cover this life-saving measure for transplant recipients, who overwhelmingly come from these communities. It’s time we reverse this decision and allow transplant recipients to have access to more and better tools — not less.”

Black and Latino Americans account for 40% of transplant recipients in the nation, according to the coalition. They also account for 50% of the 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list.

Instead of the blood tests, Medicare coverage is now extended to a surgical biopsy to determine organ rejection. But Sure said the biopsies are invasive, risky and could be too late.

“The blood tests can detect rejection three months early,” Sure said. “The physical manifestations don’t reveal themselves right away. Thank goodness I have the means and insurance to cover medical expenses. But we have to do something about the entire system. Don’t take something away from people’s lives.”

The coalition has gotten a boost from the unlikeliest of supporters —- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They are hoping to enlist the Congressional Black Caucus to join the fight.

Sure, who used to tour with New Edition and once sold out Madison Square Garden for four straight nights, said he is still proud of his Grammy nominations, his American Music Award and his work with Quincy Jones.

But he said his new lease on life comes with a higher purpose.

“I can write love songs all day and have No.1 hit records,” Sure said. “But this is the real work.”

Sure said he is as dedicated to medical equity as he is to his own health, and is prepared to work 24/7 to achieve the goal.

In other words, night and day.

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