Dr. Benjamin S. “Ben” Carson, Sr., M.D. (born September 18, 1951) is an American neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.
Background and education
Benjamin Solomon Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Sonya Carson, one of 24 children, had dropped out of school in the third grade. She later married Robert Solomon Carson, a much older Baptist minister from Tennessee, when she was only thirteen. As a result of having only a third grade education, Sonya Carson never learned how to read and could not help Ben and his older brother, Curtis, with their schoolwork. When Carson was only eight, his parents divorced, and Mrs. Carson was left to raise Benjamin and Curtis on her own. She worked at two, sometimes three, jobs at a time to provide for her boys. Later, Ben Carson experienced difficulty in school, eventually falling to the bottom of his class. He became the object of name-calling and subsequently developed a violent, uncontrollable temper. Determined to turn her son’s life around, Carson’s mother limited his television-watching and refused to let him go outside to play until he had finished his homework each day. She required him to read two library books a week and to give her written reports on his reading, even though, with her own poor education, she could barely read what he had written. Carson soon amazed his instructors and classmates with his improvement. “It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t stupid,” he recalled later. Carson continued to amaze his classmates with his new-found knowledge and within a year he was at the top of his class.
After determining that he wanted to be a psychiatrist, Carson graduated with honors from high school and attended Yale University, where he earned a degree in Psychology. From Yale, he went to the Medical School of the University of Michigan, where his interest shifted from psychiatry to neurosurgery. His excellent hand-eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning skills made him a superior surgeon. After medical school, he became a neurosurgery resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of 33, he became director of Pediatric Neurosurgery.
In September 1987 Carson performed at DSA a procedure to separate a pair of seven-month-old German conjoined twins, who were joined at the head. Carson was the lead surgeon on the team which performed the complex procedure. – – In 1997 Carson and his team went to South Africa to separate Joseph and Luka Banda, infant boys from Zambia. Both boys survived, and neither one suffered severe brain damage. The Bandas were the first set of twins joined at the tops of their heads to be successfully surgically separated. The operation lasted 28 hours, from 10:15 to 4:46). – – In 2003, Carson was a member of the surgical team that worked to separate conjoined adult siblings Ladan and Laleh Bijani. Neither survived the surgery. When asked why he had performed such a risky surgery, Carson stated that they conveyed to him they would rather die than stay conjoined.
Carson married Lucena Rustin—whom he met at Yale—in 1975; she holds an M.B.A. degree and is an accomplished musician, and both are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Christian denomination. They have three sons, Murray, Benjamin Jr., and Rhoeyce.
Awards and honors
Carson has received numerous honors and many awards over the years, including over 40 honorary doctorate degrees. He was also a member of the American Academy of Achievement, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the Yale Corporation (the governing body of Yale University), and many other prestigious organizations. He sits on many boards including the Board of Directors of Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corporation, and America’s Promise. He was also the president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. In 2007, Carson was inducted into the Indiana Wesleyan University Society of World Changers and received an honorary doctorate while speaking at the university. He returned to IWU the following year when his friend, Tony Dungy, was also inducted into the society. On June 19, 2008, Carson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Later career and illness
Carson has written three bestselling books published by Zondervan, an international Christian media and publishing company: Gifted Hands, The Big Picture, and Think Big. The first book is an autobiography, and the other two are about his personal philosophies of success that incorporate hard work and a faith in God; Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist. In a debate with Richard Dawkins, Francis Collins, and Daniel Dennett, Carson stated he doesn’t believe in evolution: “I don’t believe in evolution…He says that because there are these similarities even though we can’t specifically connect them it proves that this is what happened.”
In 2002 Carson was forced to cut back on his public appearances a bit when he faced a medical problem of his own. In June he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but the cancer was caught in time. Because of his brush with death, however, Carson made a few life changes. He still operates on more than three hundred children a year but has been trying to shorten his days: prior to his cancer he used to work from 7:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night. Now, he tries to leave the hospital at 6:15 P.M. This gives him more time to spend with his wife and three children.
A video documentary about Carson’s life titled Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story was released by Zondervan in 1992. Subsequently in 2009, a separate television movie with the identical title premiered on TNT on February 7, 2009, with Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. in the lead role and Kimberly Elise portraying his mother.
- (2009) Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-21469-6
- (2008) Take The Risk, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-25973-8
- (2000) The Big Picture, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-23834-X
- (1996) Think Big, Zondervan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-310-21459-9
- (1990) Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, Review&Herald Pub. Assoc., ISBN 0-8280-0669-5