Black History Month Project
by: Earl Wright

Ben Carson

Benjamin Solomon "Ben" Carson, Sr. (born September 18, 1951) is an American author, and retired neurosurgeon. He is the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. In 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. After delivering a widely publicized speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, he became a popular conservative figure in political media for his views on social and political issues. He is actively considering declaring his candidacy as a Republican for the 2016 presidential election.

Early Life

   Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Sonya (née Copeland) and Robert Solomon Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist Minister. His parents were both from rural Georgia A DNA test on the television series African American Lives stated that he is of 80% African and 20% European ancestry. When he was 8 years old, his parents divorced and he and his 10-year-old brother, Curtis, were raised by their mother.

In his book Gifted Hands Carson relates that in his youth, he had a violent temper. Once, while in the ninth grade, he nearly stabbed a friend during a fight over a radio station, instead breaking the knife blade. He attended Southwestern High School in Southwest Detroit where he excelled in ROTC. He quickly rose in rank and was offered a West Point scholarship.

Carson graduated from Yale University, where he majored in psychology. He received his M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School.

Medical Career

Carson was a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics, and he was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. At age 33, he became the youngest major division director in Johns Hopkins history, as director of pediatric neurosurgery. He was also a co-director of the Johns Hopkins Craniofacial Center.

According to Johns Hopkins Hospital literature, “Dr. Carson focuses on traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors,achondroplasia, neurological and congenital disorders, craniosynostosis, epilepsy, and trigeminal neuralgia. He is also interested in maximizing the intellectual potential of every child.”

Carson believes his hand–eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning skills made him a gifted surgeon. After medical school, he became a neurosurgery resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Starting off as an adult neurosurgeon, Carson became more interested in pediatrics. He believed that with children, “what you see is what you get,... when they’re in pain they clearly show it with a frown on their face or when they are happy they show it by smiling brightly."

In 1987 Carson successfully separated conjoined twins, the Binder twins, who had been joined at the back of the head, making them craniopagus twins. The 70-member surgical team, led by Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were separated, both survived. As Carson said in an interview:

I was talking to a friend of mine, who was a cardiothoracic surgeon, who was the chief of the division, and I said, "You guys operate on the heart in babies, how do you keep them from exsanguinating" and he says, "Well, we put them in hypothermic arrest." I said, "Is there any reason that -- if we were doing a set of Siamese twins that were joined at the head -- that we couldn't put them into hypothermic arrest, at the appropriate time, when we're likely to lose a lot of blood?" and he said, "No." I said, "Wow, this is great." Then I said, "Why am I putting my time into this? I'm not going to see any Siamese twins." So I kind of forgot about it, and lo and behold, two months later, along came these doctors from Germany, presenting this case of Siamese twins. And, I was asked for my opinion, and I then began to explain the techniques that should be used, and how we would incorporate hypothermic arrest, and everybody said "Wow! That sounds like it might work." And, my colleagues and I, a few of us went over to Germany. We looked at the twins. We actually put in scalp expanders, and five months later we brought them over and did the operation, and lo and behold, it worked.

Carson figured in the revival of the hemispherectomy, a drastic surgical procedure in which part or all of one hemisphere of the brain is removed to control severe pediatricepilepsy. He refined the procedure in the 1980s, encouraged by Dr. John M. Freeman, and performed it many times.

In addition to his responsibilities at Johns Hopkins, he has served on the boards of the Kellogg Company, Costco, and the Academy of Achievement. He is an emeritus fellow of the Yale Corporation.

In March 2013, Carson announced he would retire as a surgeon, stating “I’d much rather quit when I'm at the top of my game, and there’s so many more things that can be done.” His retirement became official on July 1, with Carson saying he would leave the decision of whether to go into politics “in the hands of God, but much can be done outside the political arena.”

Awards and Honors

Carson is a member of the American Academy of Achievement, and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. In 2000 he received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. In 2008 the White House awarded Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2010, he was elected into the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine. Carson has been awarded 38 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations. In 2014, Carson ranked 6th on Gallup's list of the most admired men in the world.


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