Benjamin S. Carson Biography (1951-)

African American
pediatric neurosurgeon

Benjamin S. Carson is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon best known for leading a surgical team in a successful operation to separate Siamese twins. He is also recognized for his expertise in performing hemispherectomies , where half the brain is removed to stop seizures. He is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital as well as assistant professor of neurosurgery, oncology, and pediatrics at the School of Medicine.

Born on September 18, 1951, Benjamin Solomon Carson came from a poor family in Detroit. He was the second son of Robert Solomon Carson, a Baptist minister, and Sonya Copeland Carson. His father was twenty-eight when he married, buthis mother was only thirteen; she married in order to escape a difficult home situation. When Carson was only eight years old and his brother, Curtis, was ten, their parents divorced and his mother took them to live with relativesin a Boston tenement, while she rented out their house in Detroit. Working as many as three domestic jobs at a time, she earned enough money to move herfamily back to Detroit two years later.

Both Carson and his brother had a difficult time in school, and their low grades fanned the racial prejudice against them. But their mother took charge oftheir education, even though she herself had not gone past the third grade.By limiting the television they could watch and insisting they both read twobooks a week and report on them, she helped them raise their grades considerably. Carson discovered he enjoyed learning, and by the time he reached juniorhigh school he had risen from the bottom to the top of his class.

But even then he continued to face racial prejudice; in the eighth grade, helistened to a teacher scold his class for allowing him, a black student, to win an achievement award. These early difficulties left Carson with a violenttemper as a young man. He was often in fights: "I would fly off the handle,"he told People contributors Linda Kramer and Joe Treen. Once he almost killed a friend in an argument. Carson tried to stab him in the stomach with a knife, but luckily the boy was wearing a heavy belt buckle, which stopped the blade. Only fourteen at the time, Carson was shocked at what he had almost done, and he saw the direction his life could have taken. This experiencedrove him more deeply into his religion--he is still a Seventh-Day Adventist--and his faith in God helped him control his temper.

He studied hard and did so well during high school that he won a scholarshipto Yale University. He received his bachelor's degree from Yale in 1973. He had always dreamed of becoming a doctor and was very interested in psychiatry,but once in medical school at the University of Michigan, he realized he wasgood with his hands and set his sights on neurosurgery. After completing medical school in 1977, he was one of the few graduates and the first black accepted into the residency program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. In 1983 because of a shortage of neurosurgeons in Australia, Carson was offered achief neurosurgical residency at Queen Elizabeth II Medical Center in Perth,where he gained a great deal of operating experience. He returned to Johns Hopkins in 1984, and after a year he was promoted to director of pediatric neurosurgery, becoming one of the youngest doctors in the country to head such adivision.

One of Carson's accomplishments was reviving the use of a procedure called hemispherectomy--an operation that removes half the patient's brain to cure diseases such as Rassmussen's encephalitis, which cause seizures.These operations had been stopped because of their high mortality rate, but with Carson's skills the procedure has been highly successful.

But Carson's best known accomplishment was the operation he performed in September 1987 to separate seven-month-old German Siamese twins, who were joinedat the head. Carson was the lead surgeon on the team which performed "perhapsthe most complex surgical feat in the history of mankind," as he described the operation to Ebony. There was a team of seventy medical staff members, including five neurosurgeons, seven pediatric anesthesiologists, five plastic surgeons, two cardiac surgeons, and dozens of nurses and technicians,and it took five months of preparation, including five three-hour dress rehearsals. A crowd of media people waited outside the operating room for Carson and his medical team to emerge, triumphant, at the end of the twenty-two-houroperation.

In 1988 Carson was awarded both the Certificate of Honor for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Medicine by the National Medical Fellowship and the American Black Achievement Award. He has received honorary doctor of science degrees from several universities, and the Candle Award for Science and Technology from Morehouse College in 1989.

Carson married Lacena Rustin--whom he met at Yale--in 1975; she holds a M.B.A. degree and is an accomplished musician. They have three sons. Carson feelsstrongly about motivating young people to fulfill their potential, as he did,and he often lectures to students around the nation. He advises young peopleto "think big," and he has written a book by that title. Carson was also onthe editorial advisory board of the Time-Life series Voices of Triumph, about the history and achievements of African Americans.

Recent Updates

March 1, 2004: Carson was named to the President's Council on Bioethics, a panel of 17 doctors, lawyers, scientists, theologians, and ethicists whoaddress a wide range of bioethical issues and provide advice to the President on these issues. Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine,, April 20, 2004.

User Contributions:

I would like to know who that teacher at the awards ceremony was. I am sure many people besides Dr. Carson remember what she said. Frightening that people think like that and even worse act on it in public, to an audience nonetheless. I hope she's been eating those words for years.

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