So what this guy has something like 61 honorary doctorate degrees? Big deal!
Who cares he’s written four books?
Why should one care President George W. Bush awarded Dr. Benjamin S. Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom-the highest civilian honor one can receive?
And is it really that big of deal that Cuba Gooding Jr and Kimberley Elise have starred in a movie about your career?
Well, because Dr. Carson was the first surgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins, the Binder twins, who were joined at the back of the head. That’s why.
However, the 60-year-old pediatric neurosurgeon wasn’t what one would consider to have been groomed for success. Growing up in Detroit with his brother, and raised by his single mother Sonya, who only had but a third-grade education and couldn’t read, Carson, appeared to have one foot through the proverbial crack so many inner-city children oftentimes fall through.
In an interview for the Academy of Achievement, a U.S. non-profit organization that highlights the successful careers of high-profile figures from all fields, Carson spoke candidly about his early academics.
“I was perhaps the worst student you’ve ever seen. I thought I was really stupid. All my classmates and teachers agreed, and my nickname was ‘dummy’,” he recalled.
Due to his poor grades, Sonya turned off the television and made both her children read books from the public library, which was no kid’s idea of fun or cool, especially when all your friends are playing outside.
“I started to enjoy it because we had no money, but between the covers of those books, I could go anyplace, I could be anybody, I could do anything,” Carson said.
Carson began to excel in school and learned early on where he wanted to focus his talent. Unlike most children who dreaded the hospital, Carson thought it was the “bee’s knees.”
“I can remember we used to sit in the hallways at Detroit City Hospital or Boston City Hospital for hours and hours because we were on medical assistance, which meant we had to wait until one of the interns or residents was free to see us, and I didn’t mind at all because I was in the hospital. And, I was listening to the PA system. ‘Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones to the emergency room,’ just sounded so fabulous,” Carson said.
After high school, Carson went to Yale University and then the University of Michigan Medical School. Once he finished medical school, Carson did his residency at John Hopkins Hospital. He knew he’d work in medicine; he just wasn’t certain which avenue. He thought about being a missionary doctor and then a psychiatrist. However, Carson wanted something more challenging, so he decided upon the brain.
“Nobody knows anything about the brain and I spent all those years thinking I was going to be a psychiatrist, so, I already knew quite a lot about the brain. So, it was toward the end of my first year in medical school that I decided that neurosurgery was going to be the right field for me,” Carson recalled.
At 33, Carson became the youngest division director at Hopkins, acting as the head of Pediatric Neurosurgery. While he started off as an adult neurosurgeon, Carson transitioned to pediatrics because he thought children were self-explanatory.
“What you see is what you get,” Carson said. “When they’re in pain, they clearly show it with a frown on their face or when they’re happy they show it by smiling brightly,” Carson said.
All of Carson’s hard work and imagination would come to a head in 1987 after he led a 50-member team in separating the Binder Twins. For 22 hours, Carson and his team helped to make medical history, but not by doing things the traditional way.
Carson spoke to a cardiothoracic surgeon and asked how the surgeon prevents babies from bleeding to death or to exsanguinate. The doctor said babies are placed in hypothermic arrest. Carson thought the procedure could work on conjoined twins. Two months later, he’d put his findings to practice when doctors from Germany asked Carson his opinion on how to best separate the Binder twins. He told them the techniques that should be used and how hypothermic arrest could help. Everyone agreed on the new approach and lo and behold, it worked.
If you ask Carson, the success of the surgery was important, but just a piece of the pie.
“The most important thing to me is taking your God-given talents and developing them to the utmost, so that you can be useful to your fellow man, period. That is by far the most important thing. And, you know, whether I- happen to be the first black person to do that, or the first person, period, to do that — which is the case in both situations — I don’t know that that’s particularly important,” he said.
While Carson’s success can be traced back to his hard work, determination and unwavering faith, he’s convinced everyone can have his success and more.
“There’s no such thing as an average human being,” Carson said. “If you have a normal brain, you are superior.”