By Kathy Fawcett
When he was in the fifth grade, Ben Carson’s mom turned off the TV. This not only changed the course of Ben’s life, but it changed the lives of thousands of people around the world.
At the time, his mom was really worried sick, and knew that Ben’s future was looking bleak. He had a red-hot temper, coupled with terrible performance at school.
Ben himself said: “I really felt I was the stupidest kid in the fifth grade.”
Born in 1951, Ben was a kid from a broken home, trying to survive in Detroit, Michigan. His struggles at home and at school brought his self-esteem to a new low, but two events in the fifth grade changed his life.
First, Ben got prescription glasses, which enabled him to see the chalkboard and his lessons for the first time. Next, Ben’s Mom turned off the TV, except for two pre-determined shows per week. She then laid down the law and required Ben to read two books every week, and write a book report for each. When he first heard this, he realized he’d never read an entire book before in his life. But Ben did as his mother told. Years later, he learned that his mother, with only a third grade education, hadn’t even been able to read his reports.
Many of the books Ben read focused on people overcoming trials and bad situations. Ben decided that he wanted be one of those people. He wanted to overcome life’s obstacles and succeed. He also gained an overall knowledge of life, and the world around him.
One day in the sixth grade, Ben’s teacher held up a rock and asked the children to identify it. When no one raised a hand, Ben did. He recognized the Obsidian rock from one of his many books, and was never again taunted as the “class dummy.” Ben gained knowledge and confidence, moving to the head of his class and eventually earning a scholarship to Yale University.
But the temper didn’t go away with education. Ben’s life nearly took another direction when he tried to stab a classmate in a blind fury. Fortunately, the knife blade hit the boy’s belt buckle, instead of flesh. This was a real turning point for Ben Carson, M.D.
Ben Carson attended Yale University, continued his education at the University of Michigan Medical School where he studied neurosurgery, and later moved to Johns Hopkins University where he worked his way up to Director of Pediatric Surgery. At age 32, he became the youngest surgeon in the nation to hold that distinguished title.
Dr. Carson works with the families of children who have brain tumors or other neurological conditions. He performs over 500 critical operations on children each year, which is three times the caseload of the average neurosurgeon.
In 1987 Carson was thrust into the worldwide spotlight. After months of preparation, he led a 70-member team in a grueling 22-hour operation on the West German Binder Siamese twins who were both connected at the back of the head. The surgery separated the girls’ skull and circulatory systems. The operation was successful – a medical first.
Today, Ben Carson, M.D., operates on more than 300 children every year at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Patients and fellow doctors around the world seek out Dr. Carson for his expertise in separating conjoined twins and conducting brain surgery to control seizures. Dr. Carson is a leading specialist in the field of cerebral hemispherectomies, in which half of the brain is removed to stop seizures. A recipient of numerous awards and honors, the author of three books, and the co-founder, with his wife Candy, of a non-profit organization to help hard-working youth fund a college education, he enjoys a life rich in accomplishments and often shares his life and stories.
“I made a commitment to myself that at every opportunity, I’d encourage young people. As I became more well-known and started getting more opportunities to speak, I decided that teaching kids how to set goals and achieve them would be a constant theme of mine. Nowadays I get so many requests, I can’t accept anywhere near all of them. Yet, I try to do as much as I can for young people without neglecting my family and my duties at Johns Hopkins,” says Dr. Carson.
The DIFF team celebrates the month of February as Black History Month.