He has lead medical teams the world over in the separations of conjoined twins. He even had a cameo in the 2003 film Stuck on You, which starred Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins. But in the summer of 2002, Ben Carson found himself needing medical assistance.
The director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, Carson, 53, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On an MRI of his spine he said doctors saw lesions thought to be consistent with the spread of the disease.
Carson joked that after word of his illness got out, people started saying he was ill with all types of cancer, and that he was not just dying, but already dead.
“One lady had called my office,” Carson deadpanned. “She said, ‘I heard Dr. Carson was dead, I want to speak to him.'”
It turned out the lesions were a congenital anomaly of the spine, and the cancer was localized in the prostate. He had surgery and has since fully recovered.
Carson was a consulting neurosurgeon in the surgery to separate the Iranian conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani last year, a surgery that resulted in the twins’ deaths. After initially discouraging the operation, Carson said he changed his mind after meeting the twins, and found out that they both had law degrees, and had learned English in only seven months.
Carson was convinced that the two understood the risks of the surgery and noted that the twins were adamant about having the operation.
“They said, ‘We would rather die than spend another day together,'” Carson said.
Addressing a crowd of 800 at the USF Special Events Center on Friday, Carson spoke of his impoverished childhood in Detroit where he struggled in school and with anger problems. Carson said his background was pivotal in his rise to the top of his profession.
“I’m not so sure it’s so bad being desperately poor; it has a way of motivating you.”
His fifth-grade classmates argued one day at recess as to whom was the dumbest kid in class. They agreed it was Carson. They then tried to decide who was the dumbest person in the world.
“I said ‘There are billions of people in the world,'” Carson said. “And they said, ‘Yes, and you’re the dumbest one.'”
He said his mother pushed him and his brother to read two books a week and to write a book report on each. Only later did he find out his mother only had a third-grade education and could not even read the reports.
“But she made all the checkmarks and underlines (on) everything.”
By seventh grade, Carson said he had risen to the top of his class, and, according to him, it was the result of high expectations from his mother.
“I had low expectations in the fifth grade and I lived down to them, and I had high expectations in seventh grade, and I lived up to them.”
He said the black youth of America has a very distorted view of success and that faith, hard work and luck play a large part in it. He commented that America, a country “given birth by every other nation,” might be going down the same road as older empires like Rome in its fascination with entertainment — a trait, he said, that particularly characterizes young people.
“By the time they realize that they are not going to be in professional sports, they’re not going to be an entertainer,” he said.
“Next thing you know you’re looking at the six o’clock news and say ‘Yo Johnny,’ as he’s taken away in handcuffs, shielding his face from the camera.”
He said that any person, black or white, in the auditorium should be able to walk down the street with “Johnny” and give him a history lesson about the many contributions black people have made to American society.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and his wife Lauren were among those in attendance.
Dungy, in town for the Easter Holiday, was presented with The Institute on Black Life’s Community Service Award, presented by the institute’s director, Geoffrey Okogbaa.
The former Buccaneers coach had not been informed of the award prior to the event.
“We didn’t know about the award,” Dungy said. “It was a complete surprise.”
Dungy said he had come to the event to hear Carson, and that he was interested in contributing to Carson’s scholarship fund.
As for Carson’s speech, Dungy remarked that Carson’s message was fitting for the holiday weekend.
“I thought it was a fabulous speech with a great message,” Dungy said. “It was very appropriate” to the holiday weekend.
The night also included drumming and dancing by a youth group and a poem by Tampa’s poet laureate James Tokley Sr.