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Ben Carson overcame his troubled youth in inner-city Detroit to become a gifted neurosurgeon famous for his work separating conjoined twins.
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By 1982, he was chief resident in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.
In 1983, Carson received an important invitation. Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Australia, needed a neurosurgeon and invited Carson to take the position. Resistant at first to move so far away from home,
he eventually accepted the offer. It proved to be an important one. Australia at the time was without enough doctors with highly sophisticated training in neurosurgery. Carson gained several years worth of experience in the year he was in Australia and honed his skills tremendously.
Carson returned to Johns Hopkins in 1984 and, by 1985, he became director of pediatric neurosurgery at the young age of 33. In 1987, Carson attracted international attention by performing a surgery to separate two 7-month-old craniopagus twins from Germany. Patrick and Benjamin Binder were born joined at the head. Their parents contacted Carson, who went to Germany to consult with the parents and the boys' doctors. Because the boys were joined at the back of the head, and because they had separate brains, he felt the operation could be performed successfully.
On September 4, 1987, Carson and a team of 70 doctors, nurses, and support staff joined forces for what would be a 22-hour surgery. Part of the challenge in radical neurosurgery is to prevent severe bleeding and trauma to the patients. In this operation, Carson had applied a technique used in cardiac surgery called hypothermic arrest.
The boys' bodies were cooled down so the blood flowed slower and bleeding was less severe. This allowed the surgeons to perform the delicate task of untangling, dividing and repairing shared blood vessels. Although the twins did have some brain damage, both survived the separation, making Carson's surgery the first of its kind.
In 1994, Carson and his team went to South Africa to separate the Makwaeba twins. The operation was unsuccessful, as both girls died from complications of the surgery. Carson was devastated, but vowed to press on, as he knew such procedures could be successful. In 1997, Carson and his team went to Zambia in South Central Africa to separate infant boys Luka and Joseph Banda. This operation was especially difficult because the boys were joined at the tops of their heads, making this the first time a surgery of this type had been performed. After a 28-hour operation, both boys survived and neither suffered brain damage.
Over time, Ben Carson's operations began to gain media attention. At first, what people saw was the soft-spoken hospital spokesperson explaining the complicated procedures in simple terms. But in time, Carson's own story became public -- a troubled youth growing up in the inner-city to a poor family eventually finding success.
Soon, Carson began traveling to schools, businesses and hospitals across the country telling his story and imparting his philosophy of life. Out of this dedication to education and helping young people, Carson and his wife Candy founded the Carson Scholars Fund in 1994. The foundation grants scholarships to young students and promotes reading in the younger grades.
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