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Celebrating Black History: Dr. Ben Carson

Dr. Ben Carson overcame poverty and challenging circumstances to become the world-renowned neurosurgeon who performed the first successful separation of cojoined twins who were attached at the back of the head.

Dr. Ben Carson overcame poverty and challenging circumstances to become the  world-renowned neurosurgeon who performed the first successful separation of cojoined twins who were attached at the back of the head.

February marks the 45th annual celebration of Black History Month, dedicated to honoring and spotlighting the significant works, achievements, and contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to our society and the world.

To celebrate, each week throughout Black History Month, Trusted Medical is spotlighting an African American medical pioneer whose groundbreaking contributions changed the course of medicine and paved the way for future generations to come. Click here if you missed last week’s incredible innovator, Dr. Patricia Bath.

This week, we highlight the life of Dr. Ben Carson. Keep reading to learn more about Dr. Ben Carson and his groundbreaking role in the field of medicine. 

Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.

Early Life & Education

Born in Detroit, Carson was the son of Robert Solomon Carson Jr., a World War II U.S. Army veteran and Cadillac automobile plant laborer and Sonya Carson. His mother, Sonya Carson, grew up in Tennessee in a very large family and dropped out of school in the third grade. After spending time in and out of foster homes and living in poverty, she married 28-year-old Robert Carson at just 13. A few years later, they divorced after Sonya discovered that Robert Carson had a secret family. Robert then moved in with his other family, leaving Sonya to raise her two sons on her own with no money.

The following years, Sonya would raise her sons as a single mother, working 2 or 3 jobs at a time just to make ends meet. However, she would remain very supportive of her sons and pushed for them to get an education. In school, Carson performed poorly as a student until his mother challenged him and his brother with work in addition to their regular schoolwork. She required them to do several reading and writing assignments for several weeks. Carson soon discovered a passion for reading and found it more entertaining than television. Through reading, Carson discovered that he could us his imagination more and developed a strong desire to learn more things. Within a year, Carson’s grades significantly improved, and his teachers and classmates were amazed at his academic improvement. He would receive numerous academic honors for the duration of his school years.

Professional Career 

In 1973, he received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University where he met Lacena (Candy Rustin). Two years later, the couple married and had three children. In 1977, he attended the University of Michigan where he earned his medical degree and later John Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, where he completed a residency in neurosurgery. Dr. Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins in 1984, he was one of the youngest doctors in the U.S. to earn that title at 32 years old.

In 1987, Carson would make medical history as the neurosurgeon who performed the first successful separation of cojoined twins. The Binder twins were born joined at the back of the head (occipital craniopagus twins) and operations such as these had always failed with either one or both twins dying. However, Carson agreed to undertake the operation and worked for 22 hours with a 70-member surgical team led by Carson. The twins were successfully separated after the surgery and were able to live independently. As a result of the surgery, Carson garnered international attention as a renowned neurosurgeon.  

Later Life

Dr. Carson holds more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees and is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. Carson has also sat on the board of directors for several organizations, including the Kellogg Company, the Academy of Achievement, Costco Wholesale Corporation, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation.

In 2001, he was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 89 “Living Legends” in its 200th anniversary. In 2008, Carson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2010.  

Throughout his medical career, Dr. Carson has written more than 100 neurosurgical publications 5 best-selling books: “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” Unleashing Your Potential For Excellence,” “Take The Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk,” The Big Picture,” and “America The Beautiful.”

Carson retired as neurosurgeon but devotes much of his time to public speaking, serving as a keynote speaker at numerous prestigious conferences across the world. Dr. Carson believes it is important to bring value to the world by improving the lives of other human beings and continues to devote his time to serving and helping others.