Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. , was born September 18, 1951in Detroit, Michigan. He is an American neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His mother, Sonya, had dropped out of school in the third grade and married at the age of 13. Ben Carson’s father abandoned the family after Sonya discovered he had another wife and kids, leaving his mother to fend for him and his brother. Sonya moved the boys to Boston, Massachusetts, to be near family, but less than a year later the Carson return to Detroit. Sonya took on two-three jobs at times to support her family.
Ben was a good student but when he returned to Michigan Elementary school he realized that he was far behind the other fifth graders. Carson remembered being laughed at by his classmates who, one day at recess, decided he was not only the dumbest kid in the fifth grade, but maybe the dumbest kid in the whole world. Life at Higgens Elementary was also not easy because it was a mostly white school, and Carson, one of the few African American students, was taunted by his schoolmates and ignored by teachers. His mother decided to take matters into her own hands by switching off the television.
Ben and Curtis were allowed to watch only two programs a week and their mother made them read two books each week from the Detroit Public Library. The boys were also required to write book reports, which Sonya would underline and mark up. Only later did Ben Carson realize his mother, who had left school after the third grade, was barely able to read. By the time he graduated from Southwestern High School in 1969, Carson was earning all A’s, and his classmates, who only a few years before called him the dumbest kid in school, voted him the most likely to succeed.
He received a full scholarship to attend Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where, in 1973, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. From there, he headed back to Michigan to attend medical school. Carson had wanted to become a doctor since he was a boy, after hearing about medical missionaries in sermons at church. He originally planned to become a psychiatrist, but during his first year in medical school he was intrigued by the field of neurosurgery.
After earning a medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1977, the young physician was accepted into the residency program in general surgery at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Carson was the hospital’s first African American neurosurgical resident, and by 1982, he was the chief resident of neurosurgery. In 1983 Carson and his wife, Lacena “Candy” Rustin, moved to Perth, Australia, because Carson had been invited to be the chief neurosurgical resident at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, one of Australia’s leading centers for brain surgery.
Because there were few neurosurgeons in the country, Carson gained a great deal of experience in a short time. Some of Carson’s most difficult cases involved patients who suffered from chronic seizures. In some cases, patients were having more than one hundred seizures a day. Carson revived a surgical procedure that had been abandoned because it was considered too dangerous. Called a hemispherectomy, the surgery involves removing half of a patient’s brain. Carson performed his first successful hemispherectomy in 1985, and since then the operation has helped many patients lead healthy, normal lives.
Carson made numerous other advancements in neurosurgery. For example, he developed a new method to treat brain-stem tumors and was the first doctor to perform surgery on a fetus inside the womb. However, by the late 1980s, Carson became known as an expert in one of the most difficult types of surgeries: separating conjoined twins (identical twins born with connected body parts). Conjoined twins occur once in every seventy thousand to one hundred thousand births. Separating conjoined twins is difficult because they sometimes share internal organs or major blood vessels.
In 1987 Carson was called upon to separate two babies from Ulm, Germany, named Patrick and Benjamin Binder. The boys were craniopagus twins, which mean they were joined at the head. Craniopagal joining is among the rarest forms of conjoined twins, occurring about once in every two million births. Because the condition is so rare and because one, or both, children usually die in surgery, most doctors were skeptical of the case. Carson, however, agreed to perform the surgery. Because the boys were joined at the back of the head, and because they had separate brains, he felt the operation could be performed successfully.
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 fortunately the cancer was caught in time. Carson the surgeon became Carson the patient, but that did not stop him from taking an active role in his own case. The feisty doctor reviewed his own X-rays and quizzed the team of surgeons who operated on him. Carson fully recovered from his surgery and came away with a clean bill of health. Carson has received numerous honors and many awards over the years, including over 61 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 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. He is a recipient of the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal and is a 2010 appointee to the Institute of Medicine of the United States National Academy of Sciences.